For our latest renovation, we’re transforming a classic Chicago two-flat to create a rear modern
home addition while preserving the traditional vernacular. The contemporary extension offers increased living space with an open kitchen, dining, and living area that connects to the backyard, a primary bedroom suite, and a deluxe basement rec room/guest suite — with all levels accessible by a shiny new interior elevator.
MODERN HOME ADDITION: CONTEMPORARY MEETS HISTORIC
Older buildings inform us about the history and culture of the past and play a significant role in creating a sense of community. Modern structures, while distinctly different from historical ones, are equally important in shaping the built environment. They have the potential to revive a neighborhood; this is often referred to as the Bilbao effect, a term used to describe the economic and social impact of the Guggenheim Museum in Spain.
Two and three-flat homes are synonymous with Chicago (also some East Coast cities). Certainly not to a historical museum’s scale or comparison, these structures possess their own charm with their vintage architectural details and craftsmanship. Our client’s home is located in the Ukrainian Village Landmark district, and it’s a bit of a design time capsule. The layout consists of small, disconnected rooms, built-in storage cabinets, some not-so-beautiful vinyl flooring, outdated appliances, windows, plumbing, and HVAC systems.
For this modern home addition, like all of our renovation projects, we carefully examine the existing structure and its historical features. Since the home is a designated landmark building, we’re working closely with the local landmark preservation board to ensure that the renovation respects the historical integrity of the building while accommodating the needs of modern living. The front façade, with its distinctive brickwork, is being carefully restored and enhanced to complement the original historical design. Restoration improvements include new windows and masonry features, replacing existing concrete stairs and the landing at the front porch, masonry, parapet, and limestone.
MODERN HOME ADDITION: REFRESHING & UPGRADING OUTDATED REAR PORCHES
True to our sustainable ethos, we’re incorporating sustainable design features, such as removing the existing rear porch and replacing it with newly constructed spaces that are taller and can accept solar panels. We’ll also brighten up the interior with the addition of floor-to-ceiling windows and clerestory glass. This smart addition allows fresh air circulation and natural light to illuminate the space while generating renewable energy, reducing the house’s carbon footprint and saving on energy costs.
Our renovation gives our clients the best of both worlds – character retention on the exterior street-facing side, while the rear gets a modern, corten upgrade. Corten steel, often called weathering steel, is an outer building material we’ve installed on several projects. Corten develops a beautiful, rusted patina when exposed to the elements, is easy to maintain as it eliminates the need for painting, and is incredibly resistant to corrosion.
CONVERTING A CLASSIC CHICAGO TWO-FLAT TO A SINGLE FAMILY
We’re reconfiguring the layout to create an open living space on the first floor, connecting the kitchen, dining, and living areas, which opens to the backyard. But we are not simply blowing out the entire first floor, which is relatively common in developer renovation projects. Instead, we’re preserving the front, street-facing portion of the first floor, maintaining the front room, which will act as a study, while a powder room and pantry divide the more traditional front area with the rear modern home addition. This custom design creates a bright, spacious layout that accommodates our client’s lifestyle while providing a flexible space for entertaining.
The second floor will be completely reorganized with new bedrooms, a laundry room (to replace the basement laundry dungeon), and a master suite with a custom millwork closet and bathroom. The bathroom is designed with a luxurious spa-like atmosphere, featuring a freestanding soaking tub and a large shower. The new layout takes advantage of the natural light but maintains privacy with clerestory glass.
Site analysis and massing options — sketches created during the schematic design phase. Understanding where the sun and shade paths fall helps inform the overhang design and roof slope for the solar panels.
FROM DRAB TO FAB: BASEMENT REC ROOM & GUEST SUITE
The lower level of the house gets a complete gut and update with a sunny guest suite featuring a bedroom, bathroom, gym, and sitting area. The space is designed to offer guests privacy and comfort while maintaining a connection with the above living space. In addition, we’re increasing the basement’s height to allow for taller windows and clerestory glass, providing natural light to the room and creating a seamless connection to the backyard.
Some may have fond or not-so-fond memories of their childhood dank basement laundry room. I’m of the latter and still remember the musty odor and fear of a possible encounter with the dreaded basement centipedes that inhabited our subterranean basement. Modernizing older homes provides an opportunity to create a more convenient and welcoming laundry room and experience. So we’re relocating the laundry room closer to where the actual laundry exists – the bedrooms.
AGING IN PLACE GETS A BOOST WITH A NEW ELEVATOR
One of the most challenging aspects of the project is retrofitting a new elevator into the existing structure. We’re making structural modifications to the house, including adding new footings for the depressed slab and modifying the floor framing to allow for the elevator shaft. Our design seamlessly integrates the lift into the design, with the vertical shaft concealed within a closet on each floor, ensuring that it does not detract from the aesthetics.
Aging gracefully in your forever home presents obstacles, especially within a multi-level house. Even if climbing stairs isn’t a struggle now, many homeowners foresee the day when physical limitations may make it challenging to tackle multiple stairs. Making structural changes to an existing house and installing a small residential elevator is an affordable accessibility solution that increases mobility and is less costly than moving to an assisted living home.
CONTEMPORARY HOME ADDITION: EXISTING CONDITIONS – DEMOLITION – CONSTRUCTION
The demo and construction are in process, and we’ll post progress updates on Instagram. Below are just a few photos of existing conditions and demo.
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