Chicago’s Wicker Park Landmark District features large residences of architectural style and materials characteristic of Chicago between the Fire of 1871 and the early 20th century. The “Wicker Park Residence” resides among and shares its street front with these historic homes, which represent some of Chicago’s largest and best examples of Victorian-era architecture. The landmark designation, which placed prescriptive rules for any new construction in the neighborhood, inspired a reinterpretation of traditional materials and detailing.
The new architecture seeks to remain quiet and familiar, in a contemporary fashion, to preserve and contribute to the historic neighborhood. Landscape, materials, scale, and alignment of wall openings and coursings were all considered in the context of the historic street, while the building height and setbacks compliment the adjacent neighbors. Rather than elevating the first floor, as many traditional Chicago residences do, the clients desired the ground level public spaces to be ADA accessible. As a result, the first-floor ceiling is a generous 11’ to better align with punched windows of neighboring properties that have elevated first floor levels.
From the street, a masonry shell features large punched openings of dark metal windows and doors and wraps the two-story residence. Traditional materials and detailing are refined and reinterpreted; A Roman style brick differentiates itself from the Chicago Common brick found on the coach house, while doors, windows, and expressed lintels are made of dark metal. The ornamental metal cornice perforated with a circular motif compliments the cast iron fence that encloses the front yard, a playful touch that recalls the traditional fences on neighboring properties.
The heavy masonry shell is carved away at the rear, revealing a garden, glass facade and a contemporary, light-filled interior. The new masonry stops short of the coach house, allowing a one-story glass enclosed link to connect old with new, and visually maintain the historic structure’s integrity as an independent structure. The sills of two existing window openings in the coach house were lowered to create door openings that enter into the glass link, but a 8” step in floor level between the existing house and coach house was maintained to further express the transition from one building into another. At the rear façade of the main house, sliding glass walls extend living spaces into the back garden during all seasons.
Reflecting the architectural concept, the interior program is divided behind the formal front” (entry, dining and living) and an informal rear (kitchen and family room). A central service core contains a powder room, butler’s pantry and storage on the first floor, and laundry and mechanical spaces on the second floor, while two large millwork volumes flank the north and south walls to conceal the stairways up to second-floor private spaces.
The interior palette is bright and clean, a blank canvas where art and eclectic furnishings are the focus. White walls, acoustic plaster ceiling, and epoxy terrazzo flooring define the interior space and reinforce a sense of openness for the large gatherings that often take place. A perforated metal screen veils the entry from the open living and dining space at the front of the house. Custom floor to ceiling metal book shelves, which line the front and rear of the first-floor center core, embrace the client’s distinctive collection of whimsical objects, books, pictures, and art.
Adapted to fit the programmatic needs of the residence, the interior of the coach house was slightly reconfigured to contain a garage on the first floor with a studio above that multi-functions as a family/playroom/guest suite. The cozy studio is outfitted with a fire orb, murphy bed, kitchenette and bathroom. A blue rubber tile floor differentiates the space from the main house and provides maximum durability for its many functions.
General Contractor: Power Construction
Structural Engineer: Enspect Engineering
Landscape Architect: Hoerr Schaudt
Lighting Designer: Lux Populi
Dining Table: Glazebrook Woodworking
Metal Fabricator: V.A. Robinson LTD.
Photography: Steve Hall / Hedrich Blessing