Walk through the unique home(s) with Dennis and Joe Kunkel of Baird & Warner.
List Price: $587,500
The Property: Today, everybody loves Bertrand. But in 1957, before the iconic corncob towers of Marina City made Bertrand Goldberg a beloved Chicago architect, he had to revamp his plans for this house in Flossmoor twice because village officials didn’t like his style.
That’s not a surprise, considering that most of the houses in the town’s prestigious southeastern section were big colonials, Georgians, and other traditional styles. Along came Goldberg proposing a low-slung structure that looked like two pyramid-roofed cottages connected by a glass box—and with a linear canopy along one side that bore no small resemblance to a drive-in diner. Despite opposition, Goldberg and his clients, Leo and Sylvia Levin, persisted, and the result was a pioneering floor plan that zoned the house’s two pavilions into formal and informal uses, while smartly blending the indoor spaces with the lush green surroundings.
That diner-esque canopy sets the tone as you approach the house; though open on the sides, it has a wooden ceiling that suggests you are already indoors. At the front door, set into a glass hallway that connects the two pavilions, the distinction between in and out is completely blurred: you look through a small indoor space toward another glass wall and a rear patio.
Inside, beneath a high, wood-beamed pyramidal ceiling, the front pavilion contains living and dining areas and the kitchen. The rear pavilion has a big family room with windows on two sides and one wall punctuated by a suspended wood staircase. (Although dramatic, the stairs turn out to lead only to unfinished attic space.) A wall at the back of the rear pavilion conceals four bedrooms, each with large windows framing views of the yard.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” asks Larry Arbeiter, who with his wife, Karen Johnson, bought the house in 2002 for $445,000 from the Levins’ widowed daughter-in-law. At the time, Arbeiter was a University of Chicago public relations executive and Johnson was an assistant at the university’s business school. They had lived in a small, boxy Cape Cod house a few blocks from this one for several years and were looking “for something as unlike a Cape Cod as possible,” says Arbeiter, who last summer took a new job in Rochester, New York, where he and Johnson now live.
While in the house, the couple did some renovations to the canopy ceiling, removed an indoor barbecue grill from the family room, and made a few other small changes. But for the most part, the house remains as it was when the Levins moved here from their previous home in Hammond, Indiana. (Leo Levin had a car dealership in Chicago Heights; the move to Flossmoor was designed to cut his commute.)
In a 1958 article in the Homewood-Flossmoor newspaper, Sylvia Levin explained that she wanted a “no-upkeep” home where the kitchen was not secluded from guests. Goldberg granted her wish: the large kitchen in the brick, glass, and steel house is part of a circular flow of space in the main pavilion. The mammoth cooking hood that hangs overhead is a counterpart to the central chimney in the living room, and the stainless steel counters, original to the house, look as hip now as they must have then. “If we could have moved that house to Rochester, we’d have taken it with us,” Arbeiter says by phone from his new home—a very weak substitute, he says, for this groundbreaking house.
Price Points: You would think that, as one of just a dozen houses designed by Bertrand Goldberg, this residence ought to have some bragging rights. But mid-century moderns, though popular again, have specialized appeal—which may account in part for Arbeiter and Johnson’s decision in April to drop their original asking price from $635,000 to $587,500. A buyer who doesn’t “get” the residence’s floor plan won’t be impressed by its provenance. On the other hand, the house does sit on nearly an acre of ground in Flossmoor’s prettiest neighborhood, and it is in great condition. A mid-century fan couldn’t find a more magnetic house.
Listing Agent: Joe Kunkel of Baird & Warner, 312-371-0986; email@example.com