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How to... Live Well

A young Lincoln Park couple turns an empty CTA lot into a sleek, eco-friendly showpiece.

The home’s living room features floor-to-ceiling windows and midcentury inspired furniture designs.

Choose thick glass with a reflective treatment. “If you live in the middle of the city on the ground floor and you have large windows, you’re living where everyone can see you,” says Pam. Windows by Fleetwood boast a laminate coating that creates a mirror-like effect and blocks UVA/UVB rays. So the Henrichs can see out, but no one can see in.

Use energy-efficient bulbs. Lighting consultant Michael Lehman advised on placement of fixtures, as well as the number and types of bulbs to use. “We learned that LEDs last longer but the color is different from a halogen,” says Pam.

Hard surface floors are better than carpet. Allergies run in the family, so the Henrichs bypassed carpet in favor of bamboo floors by Teragren that feature a no-VOC finish.

Explore healthier insulation options. The couple relied on AirKrete, a no-VOC, fire-retardant insulation that Al Gore used in his own home. “Usually when people insulate a home, they wear these moon suits for protection,” Jan says. “Our guys could just wear T-shirts because they were working with healthy materials.”

Natural materials off-gas less than artificial ones.In the kitchen, the couple opted for Bulthaup oak cabinets with an aluminum finish and energy-efficient appliances by Gaggenau. White quartz countertops complete the sleek look.

Allow for an indoor/outdoor connection.The dining room doors slide open to allow easy access to fresh air for Jan and his daughter.

Let the light in. To maximize the amount of light entering the home, the couple opted for an open floor plan and a staircase that appears to float between floors.

Educate others! The front view of the Henrich’s 6,000-square-foot home, which served as the 2012 Healthy Home Showhouse.

Jan and Pam Henrich never intended to build a home. Between balancing their busy careers—Jan is a management consultant and Pam is a physician—and parenting their 5-year-old daughter, Bianca, the couple had little time to even house hunt. But as their two-bedroom condo seemed to shrink, they remained patient and persistent. More than two years and 140 showings later, they stumbled on an empty lot in Lincoln Park, once home to a CTA bus barn. A local developer had been saving the land to build his own place, but due to the economic downturn, he put it up for sale. The Henrichs scooped up the property in August 2010. “This was the perfect lot because, unlike most Chicago residences, it’s square-shaped as opposed to long and narrow, plus it’s near the lake and everything else we’ll ever need,” Jan says.

With a loose vision in mind, the Henrichs interviewed local architects and builders until they found ones that were equally young, dynamic and flexible—with their same style and schedules. During late-night and weekend meetings, the Henrichs meticulously pored over plans with architect Joseph Trojanowski and builder Jim Schueller from Bloomfield Development. Before they even broke ground, they played with 3-D computerized renderings of the 4,600-square-foot, three-story structure. “I knew from the beginning that we would create a forward-thinking house,” says Trojanowski, “and nothing was designed out of habit or routine.”

Another defining element of the home: the use of green and healthy materials. After learning the difference between the two (in short: “green” is good for the earth, “healthy” is good for humans), Pam called on the help of Healthy Child Healthy World, a California-based organization dedicated to protecting children from harmful environmental exposures. Guided by local representative Victoria Di Iorio (whose new documentary film Unacceptable Levels will screen on July 24) and sustainable design expert Jill Salisbury, the Henrichs considered every component from floors to nails, lighting, carpeting, finishes... even the manufacturing practices used to make the products. When it came to insulation, they borrowed from the practices of Al Gore, who used AirKrete for his personal estate. “Sometimes, we did have to pay more for our choices,” Jan admits, “but we feel so good about them now.”

To maximize the natural light that floods in from three sides of the home, the Henrichs installed floor-to-ceiling windows and painted the walls crisp white. Interior designer Manuel Navarro and Susan Fredman Design Group weighed in on colors, fixtures and furnishings. They installed sliding glass doors as instant, sleek room dividers, while the smart addition of a dumbwaiter allows Jan to make breakfast in the kitchen and then send it up to his third-floor office. But the Henrichs did have to comply with some basic city regulations, like using stone on the exterior instead of wood. “If you go too crazy and build the Guggenheim Museum,” says Jan, “the city will say ‘wait a second… that doesn’t really fit in this area.’”

But the Henrichs viewed each obstacle as one more challenge to take on; one more detail to consider. And knowing that little Bianca—and her new, five month old twin sisters—will grow up in a healthy home makes it all worth it. “We all learned a hell of a lot,” says Jan. And Trajonowki agrees: “Just think about it: We ask where our food comes from, so why aren’t we asking that about our homes?”