Architects Sara Lundgren and Michael Flath did just enough to their 1,500-square-foot South Loop loft to label it “architect-designed” for the market. I’ll get to those alterations in a minute, but first let’s address the real buzz: a 1,200 square-foot private yard spilling off the vintage first-floor unit like it was a freestanding house.
Of all the lofts I’ve visited, this is the first with a yard. That it’s happening at a 10-story building on a dense drag of Wabash Avenue is all the more surprising. Coldwell Banker listing agent Kevin Sullivan had a helluva time pulling comps. Condos with large balconies can offer close approximations, but many are in full amenity buildings; and townhouses have a similar horizontal layout—with front and rear entries, attached parking, and yard space—but are usually newer and more spacious.
The two-bedroom unit belongs to the nationally landmarked Coca-Cola building, a 1903 syrup manufacturing plant that stands as the last remaining pre-WWII Coca-Cola facility outside Atlanta. In the late 1920s, it became a warehouse for the fledgling film industry. “There used to be a silent film production district here on Wabash,” says Lundgren. “An archive building across the street came down a while ago, but Jeanne Gang installed a piece of its façade inside her Columbia College Media Production Center [on State Street].”
Lundgren and Flath bought their unit in 2004 for $380,000, when it was rigged for live-work. The previous owners were graphic designers and shared some design sensibilities. The industrial kitchen was right up their alley, Lundgren tells me, and there was little reworking of the physical space. The couple’s main contribution, beyond a deft hand at hanging art and furnishing, was the addition of a second bedroom as a modular appendage in an otherwise open living space. There’s an option for a lofted bunk atop the boxy structure and an office with shelving is built into its outer wall.
The sellers also gradually replaced a grassy yard with a miniature arboretum. There are three medium-sized trees, one of which is a Lebanese Cedar (aka a Dr. Seuss tree), and a stone pathway snaking through dense underbrush. Despite being pressed against Wabash, the fenced-in and bush-buffered space is intensely private. The “L” flies by the back of the building, but mercifully not directly overhead. “It’s a rhythm you get used to,” says Flath.
Lundgren and Flath crave another project, and one more bedroom, so are looking for habitable but malleable spaces all over town with a focus on Logan Square and Ukrainian Village. They speak highly of the South Loop, particularly their slice of it with museums, restaurants, transit, and grocery stores a short walk away. There’s been a pile of interest in their loft since listing five days ago and they’re already weighing offers.
“We had low expectations, even though we felt the place was special,” says Lundgren. That’s a healthy mindset in real estate, no matter the circumstance.