The live-work housing concept is one of the oldest forms of housing, and our latest project perfectly exemplifies this building type. True to our adaptive reuse roots, we transformed dingy, mustard yellow office spaces into a sunny, family-friendly gym full of design details with modern apartment units above and a protected communal courtyard with room for kids to run, bounce and slide.
BRIEF HISTORY OF LIVE-WORK DEVELOPMENTS
Traditionally, people have lived where they worked. Combining dwelling and workplace has existed for hundreds, if not thousands of years. An early example of this dual-use building type is the English workhouse. These seventeenth-century ‘craft-workers’ homes typically had a shop where goods were made and sold on the ground floor. Apprentices and servants slept in a room off to the side of the merchant selling floor while the shop owner and family members lived above the shop. These live-work buildings eventually converted to deplorable housing institutions for the poor, as depicted in Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Around the turn of the century, urban planning and new zoning laws designated the live-work concept undesirable, causing a shift and separation of residential and commercial zones, thereby prohibiting home-based work.
Another example is the Machiya (町家), a traditional Japanese wooden townhouse that once functioned as a residence and a business for artisans. The Machiya dates back to 794 AD, and the ‘kumki’ joinery (joinery made without nails) construction method is considered highly sophisticated architecture, even today. Like the English workhouse, the Machiya had a small shop space, called the mise-no-ma, and living quarters above the shop for the family. Many Machiya townhomes shared a wall with neighboring shops connecting to a garden space – an important design element that allowed sunlight and air circulation inside the rooms. Very few traditional Machiya exist today, and many that do remain are now vacation stay conversions.
Shop dweller units are not new, just repackaged and rebranded as ‘live-work.’ With infectious disease outbreaks and people’s desire to have more control of life-work balance, we’re seeing a resurgence in demand for these building types, and architecture is responding with solution-based designs.
LIVE-WORK SPACE ORGANIZATION
Our clients, a fitness-focused couple with two young kids, realized a lack of family-friendly fitness centers in Chicago. Frustrated with existing health club options and lack of adequate onsite child care, they set out to create a welcoming gym where parents could work out while their kids participated in supervised play activities all under one roof. They were also interested in scaling back work commute time and the possibility of living in the same building as their business. Property search persistence paid off, and they found an ideal mixed-use building situated next to the Rockwell ‘L’ stop in the heart of Lincoln Square.
DESIGNING A FITNESS STUDIO FOR ALL AGES
For this adaptive reuse project, we completely gutted and combined three existing separate storefronts into one spacious gym on the first floor and dug out the basement foundation to increase ceiling height and maximize space for the bathrooms. The renovation also creates a connection to the rear outdoor space and a private entrance to the owner’s second-floor apartment.
With a custom sliding door system, we give the impression of a separation between the primary (adult) gym and the kid’s gym while emphasizing a natural flow of movement throughout the space. The open area encourages users of all ages to feel comfortable, engaged, and exercise at their own pace, and parents can monitor their kids while they concentrate on getting swole.
By design, the spacious main gym is devoid of fitness machine clutter with a free weight/personal training area, and an elevated stationary bike and treadmill platform near the overhead retractable door When it isn’t 8 degrees outside, the rollup door combined with operable storefront windows at the street allows for passive cooling with natural cross ventilation during warmer months. Natural airflow and passive ventilation are essential for gym spaces where a lot of human heat and humidity are generated.
The exposed brick walls are accented with brightly painted murals from local artist Emmy Star Brown. The pattern flows from the main gym into the kid’s space, visually connecting the two rooms. To add some warmth, we designed storage cubbies and seating nooks with custom white oak millwork. Down a flight of stairs is where gym members can store their belongings and shower post-workout in the family bathrooms.
Lofty gyms tend to be noisy, so we installed horizontal, eco-friendly felt fabric baffles on the ceiling for sound attenuation. The baffles serve a multi-functional purpose acting as a concealing material for the HVAC soffits, which house plumbing waste lines and recessed lighting and provide a datum for linear light fixtures. That language turns down vertically transforming into a wood slat guardrail and screen wall at the Snack Bar located behind the cardio platform. The slats reappear at the storefront to support the graphics and neon signage for continuity.
To access the upstairs apartment, our clients can enter through the interior staircase just inside the gym entrance or the renovated stairs leading to a private deck inside the rear courtyard.
KIDS AREA & CUSTOM PLAY STRUCTURE
In the mini-gym, the brightly colored mural encourages kids to use their hand/foot coordination and find their strength on the rock climbing wall. Continuing along the climbing wall, we added another play element by installing a steel and wood custom play structure outfitted with a slide and a fort-like area beneath the cargo climbing net. The play structure promotes coordination and balance, and the cargo net is an excellent source of cardiovascular and strength training.
Below – custom play structure and kids gym sketches produced during the design phase
FACADE UPGRADES & STOREFRONT
Small storefront windows surrounded by cream-colored plaster and pastel green trim are so 80s! To bring the exterior facade into the 21st century, we removed the badly sealed storefront glass and multiple entry doors and replaced them with a continuous and enlarged operable glazing system with raised windows.
The new expansive and high-performance windows are more energy-efficient than older windows and allow fresh air ventilation and natural light to illuminate the space. The brick wasn’t in bad shape, just in need of tuckpointing and a good power wash which blasted away decades-old grime and revealed the beauty of red Chicago Common Brick.
OUTDOOR SPACE: BACKYARD IMPROVEMENTS & INTERIOR COURTYARD
Connection to the natural world is essential for improving health and well-being, and incorporating outdoor space into our designs is the foundation of our practice. The central courtyard serves to introduce light and air into the center of a relatively long floor plan. We poured a new concrete patio, carved out a masonry opening, and installed a rolling glass overhead door, while the extended private apartment deck above forms a protective overhang that shades the outdoor lounge.
Our clients love having this four-season community space connecting to the gym and their second-floor apartment.
There’s an additional protected play area to the side of the garage where kids can burn off more energy, zipping around the astroturf while the ‘L’ glides along the tracks.
LIVING ABOVE THE SHOP
Typical of pre-1990s design, the traditional compartmentalized interior of the existing owner’s apartment felt cramped and disjointed. So we opened it up by removing the kitchen wall separation from the dining room, updating and expanding the ‘Moorish’ door openings in every room, punching out a mini-courtyard opening near the kitchen, and maximizing the living space by adding a private rear deck.
The main living area centers around a wood-burning stove and a custom built-in entertainment center with abundant toy and hardwood storage compartments. Modern interior finishes include large format tile in the kitchen and bathrooms, custom millwork, and updated plumbing and lighting fixtures. The simple, natural materials add warmth to the clean, modernist space.
PEOPLE & PRODUCTS
- Architectural Design: moss
- General Contractor: InFocus Builders
- Millwork: Fricano Custom Cabinetry
- Architect of Record: Hayes A+D
- Professional Photography: Kendall McCaugherty ©Hall+Merrick Photographers
- Plumbing Fixtures: Toto, Kohler, Grohe
- Tile: Ergon Stone Project, Cermic Technics
- Wood Stove: Rais
- Kitchen Backsplash: Clé Tile
- Shower Glass: Chicago Glass & Mirror
- Door Hardware: Karcher
- Lighting Fixtures: Juno, LLI, Schoolhouse Electric
- Storefront: Ark Glass of Chicago
- Felt Baffles: Sutherland Felt Company
EXISTING CONDITIONS | CONSTRUCTION | DEMO PHOTOS
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