Price: $5 million
Traveling up and down hectic North LaSalle Avenue, there’s always a little relief when you hit the 800 and 900 blocks. This is where pockets of 19th Century townhouse, the historic currency of the Near North Side, live on. There are grand homes here, perhaps none more stunning than a 7,500-square-foot yellowed limestone five-bed that hit the market in March. There are more boastful facades to be had, but in my time stepping into strangers’ houses I’ve seen little to compete with this home’s inventive and graceful interiors.
Margery Teller, a retired stock trader who used to work the now-extinct pits at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, bought the already-glamorous 1883 townhouse in 1996, and in 2007, after a flirtation with the market, decided to gut-renovate with bursts of the Eastlake Victorian opulence but an obvious favoritism for new, polished surfaces.The most dominant original feature is the grand staircase, balancing its heft with intricate spindlework. “I couldn’t get it insured,” says Teller. “It’s almost impossible to find anyone who can restore it if something happens.” (This was tested when Teller's Rollerblading daughter put her hand through the rail; fortunately “we did find someone who was up to the challenge.”) The new conception also accommodates stained glass windows and crafts minimalist fireplaces from the originals
“It was so dark and Victorian,” says Teller. “The dining room even had leather wainscoting. … I wanted bigger and brighter, but the original materials were of such high quality that I sold most of them off.”
The project almost didn’t happen. Teller thought she had a buyer in 2006 and had moved out, but the deal fell through. “I loved the location so much that we rented the place, drew up plans, and started the renovation. We knew exactly what we wanted and had no changes once work started, which is unheard of.”
Mark Trudeau of Pavlecic Trudeau Architects was brought in for a three-story rear addition and total gut modernization of the existing spaces. On the main level alone, the front living room, once a pair of doctor’s exam rooms in an old-fashioned live-work, takes on light, bright materials (rumor has it the first appendectomy in the United States happened in this house). The ornate staircase is encapsulated in the modern, and an all-new dining-kitchen-family room combo built for entertaining barrels to the back patio. The house is about 100 feet deep and 25 feet wide, built line to line. Teller throws a lot of parties, sometimes drawing 200 people. “Whether there’s 100 people or two,” she says, “it feels like the right space.”
The home’s party preparedness carries to the basement, where a secondary kitchen built from the renovation’s leftover appliances and an extra wine closet ensure smooth staging and convenience. Shooting back up the exquisite grand staircase, the home’s most stark juxtaposition of eras and materials comes into view. The old stairs end at the second level and a gray steel and glass offshoot continues on. Even beyond this abrupt hand-off to the modern, original stained glass stand alongside the new.
Two bedroom suites dominate the second level, each essentially a master except that most people would choose the one with a huge terrace. And when you lie in the master bed, says Teller, the Mag Mile skyline comes into view.
One of the house’s quirkier design elements is the line of faux skylights in the second floor hallway. By day, they do in fact draw light from above, sourced from the third floor hallway. By night, you can flick on auxiliary lights within the glass and the experience for those walking above is that of glowing steppingstones.
Teller, an empty nester, is moving part-time to Los Angeles. “I just really don’t want to be here through another winter.” She has one more party to throw in a couple weeks and will then be ready to let go.
Price Points: Teller is only the fourth owner of this 132-year-old house. Listed for a mere $2 million in 2006, the soup-to-nuts renovation and major expansion may make it possible to scratch that history and start anew. You can get up to 11,000 square feet for $5 million in pockets of the Near North Side, but they are newer homes without the same caliber of design. The closest comps are like-sized historic gut rehabs, like one in the Gold Coast asking $4.5 million after listing for $5.5 million in February and another listed for $6 million. “The market is super hot right now in the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park, especially for the high end,” says Coldwell Banker listing agent Chezi Rafaeli. “Our office is having really big months. Inventory is low and nobody is building. People don’t necessarily want to wait and see what comes out of the pipeline.”