Our clients craved some separation—not from each other of course, rather a physical partition between their living and sleeping quarters. The couple had moved into an open loft in Lakeview, meaning their literature and laundry were fighting for sovereignty. Acting as architects, designers and general contractors, we designed a solution for their needs: custom millwork that involved four sliding bookshelves, two that faced inwards toward the bedroom, and two that faced outwards towards the living room (concept below). The bookshelves form a solid divider between the two spaces, and have room enough to house an extensive home library on one side, and four seasons worth of Chicago-ready clothing on the other. Most importantly, the units, in beautiful maple are endlessly configurable, able to retract and expand when the mood strikes, preserving the open feel of the loft the Crandells originally fell in love with.
Yet another problem with lofts, they let in the light, but places with dedicated ceilings for extra privacy (like bathrooms) can get lost in the shuffle, relegating them to be dim and unsavory places to spend precious morning hours getting ready. To remedy this, we demo’d the whole lowered ceiling for our clients bathroom, and extended its walls to the full height of the loft, adding in a rotating window to both aid in air circulation and beam the sun’s natural glow throughout the apartment.
To create the foundation that would eventually support the drywall, Chris Craciun, one of our framers, cuts off wooden blocks with a saw, holding them up to the gaps in the wall to make sure that they will fit snugly. Chris is a Romanian native, who is not a big fan of Chicago. “It’s too big; too crowded,” he laments, [and] “there’s too much traffic”. Chris prefers DC where there is more lush foliage. Fair enough.
When we first arrived and heard the unfamiliar language Chris spoke to his coworkers, he asked us to guess its origin. We knew it sounded Eastern European, but our guesses all fell short. Finally, he revealed that it was his native Romanian, the common language between Steve Sr (Toto), Steve Jr. and he.
Steve Sr. is Steve, our Site Superintendent’s father. An elderly man with a gentle temperament and and steadily paced workmanship. No one calls Steve Sr. “Steve”, however, opting instead for the affectionate, “Toto”, which means Grandpa in Hungarian. Toto and Steve share Hungarian nationality, but part of Hungary was given to Romania after WWII, so they speak both.
At lunchtime, Toto pulls a green bell pepper out of a cooler and bites into it like an apple. We all sit together in a silent but warm camaraderie.
The demolition part of the loft has been completed.
- We’ve removed the ceiling, so wiring and framing (wooden frames, custom built for each quadrant, help support drywall) can be installed.
- Chris is cutting off blocks of wood with a saw, then fitting them onto the gaps in the wall to ensure they fit snugly.
By the morning of the 18th, all framing is completed except for the closet.
- Construction reaches a standstill, because the drill bit can’t penetrate the concrete ceiling to rearrange wiring in the bathroom.
- Toto bends a steel pipe with his bare hands, which he then fits onto the ceiling, to help make sure wires meet and stay in place.
- Steve finds a long screw that is able to drill through the concrete.
- Toto smooths out a piece of drywall to make it level.
- The walls are covered with notes, to denote relocations of outlets and other hardware.
The drywall is up over the closet, but it still needs plaster (to seal out moisture and create a smooth surface), and then paint.
- To fit the drywall around the outlet, which creates a bit of challenge he cuts a large sheet down to size. and arranges them around the outlet as closely as he can.
- Toto smooths glue tape along the edges of the wall, which helps the plaster stick. He then paints plaster over the edges of the drywall.
- He mixes a compound called “Easy Sand”, with water in a bucket, scooping in more water with his palm. He spreads this mixture, now a spreadable consistency, on the wall, which helps fill in and smooth out cracks and gaps before painting. Toto is extremely clean and wipes off any uneven areas with a flat metal spreader.
The closet, and the tracking for the movable bookcases was installed yesterday.
- A new team member, Jose, is applying “joint”, a gray compound to the area around the outlet and the new wall above the closet.
- Before he lays this on, he applies more glue tape, which seals cracks and keeps seams smooth. This stuff dries quickly (in about 45 minutes), and is much more difficult to sand off than the “Easy Sand” which is more pliable and takes a few days to dry, but is much easier to shape and sand if needed. This brown mixture goes on top of the gray compound. Corner tape (a papery tape) goes into corners to keep them smooth.
- On the top portion of the closet, “corner pieces” are built around the drywall, one on each side, and then drilled in with nails.
- Before installing, Jose measures them by holding the unwieldy pieces up while on a ladder, marking where they fit, and cutting them down to size.
- The exhaust vent in the bathroom is now hidden, and the concrete ceiling, which lends a cool, industrial vibe to the place, will stay.
- José tells us he has worked here for ten years. Sometimes his work is tiring, but it’s also really fun, especially with a job that requires the puzzle work of figuring out how small parts can form solid and functional foundations.
INTERVIEW WITH STEVE:
Steve is our site superintendent, the man with the plan (well, besides us), on the construction site. He makes sure all the components of the renovation are being built correctly, work together and are ready to be lived amongst when our clients move back in. Steve moved here from Cluj, Romania, and lives with his wife, also from Romania, and kids in Chicago. He entered into the construction world over ten years ago, in 2002.
Steve’s favorite part of the whole process is the stuff behind the scenes; if he were in a theater production, he’d be swinging levers and flipping switches to transform the stage down below. “I like electrical and plumbing,” he says, “It’s nice when you have something done, [and] you’re satisfied with it, you know.” He loves to think about how something most of us barely give any thought to “Wiring, all the rough electrical work: outlets, switches, lighting—how it [all] works together.” From their wire coils to the flip of a switch as we walk into the kitchen, the very essence of modern life.
When asked about a challenge he faced during the construction of Crandell, Steve cites the vintage of the Crandell’s apartment. The Lofts at the Vic are in a converted bank building, originally constructed in 1929 to house the Belmont Sheffield & Trust Savings Bank. The bank, which never opened, leaves a legacy of intricately carved concrete and fluted granite columns to its tenants at present day. Of course, old buildings, however beautiful, come with their own set of issues, whether its sinking floors of outdated electrical. “There are always difficulties, when it’s an old house or apartment,” says Steve. “You have to make sure everything is level, you have to pay attention to the details and make sure everything is going well.”
As a Chicago transplant, Steve takes advantage of our shimmering lake, naming it as one of his favorite places to spend time in the windy city. When the weather is warm enough (and the E.Coli readings palatable), he’ll take his wife and kids for a swim. Sometimes he’ll also take them to visit the zoo or Navy Pier.
And as for dining (always a fascination of ours), Steve eschews Chicago’s array of James Beard award winners and Michelin star granted eateries, for classic steakhouses and a deep affection for burritos, which are a rare, if existent site, in Romania. We can’t blame him for making up for lost time.