An understated Bucktown single-family conversion made a brief appearance on the market last week before going under contract—and with its sharp, unfussy aesthetic, distinct style, and smart use of space, it's no wonder why it sold so fast.
The home was designed and built in two stages starting in 1995 and finishing in 2002, working off the bones of an 1894 candy factory and the workers' cottage behind it. On Oakley Avenue north of Armitage, the place cost $90,000 back then, and it was covered with graffiti. A lot of buyers would have torn it down—but it was lucky enough to become a personal project for a husband-and-wife pair of archiects.
The renovators were Catherine Baker, principal of Landon Bone Baker, and Timothy Kent, of Pappageorge Haymes. The interiors “were conceived as one big tube,” says Baker. “We were thinking in architectural principles of light and volume.” A snug central courtyard, essentially a box of light, fuses the front and rear structures and extends the tube effect. For Baker and Kent, this was enough outdoor space; it was more important to find a build-out opportunity that gave complete design freedom and allowed for a natural studio space. There were no historic pieces, according to listing agent Jane Wenger of Wenger Properties, a specialist in unusual properties, and therefore nothing to compromise a vision.
The home’s front portion is imagined as a casual studio/library space, and a hangout with a wet bar. There’s extensive built-in shelving, an office nook, and a full street-facing window wall. Across the courtyard is where all the living happens. It’s an open two-floor layout with no totally private rooms. “There’s no aural privacy, so it’s really a house for two people,” says Wenger. “Although the buyers do have a child.” A cut-through ceiling draws in natural light from the pitched roof’s row of skylights, and there’s a second window wall. Otherwise, most artificial light sources are hidden—the sellers are clearly fans of backlighting.
The other curious thing about the 2,100-square-foot space is its avoidance of fixed closets, dressers, and general storage space. The only built-in storage beyond kitchen cabinetry is a hard-to-reach loft at the roof level. Instead, white standing closets and cabinets line the halls, adding a slight ripple to the long passageways.
Slender stairs to the bedroom level feature slight, subtle reveals—spacing at the joints in the drywall and wooden steps. The corridor effect, so prominent on the main level, continues upstairs and connects two bedrooms with skylights now in close proximity. The ceiling vaults to 12 feet or so above the master bedroom.
As for Baker and Kent, they plan to rent downtown while they put work into a condo they own at Mies Van Der Rohe’s 910 North Lakeshore Drive.
Price Points: Never before listed for sale, the $725,000 asking price is $345 per square foot—not bad for the area and basically the same as traditional workers cottages on the market.