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Photography by Bob Coscarelli

Modern Marvel

by Tate Gunnerson | CS magazine | August 26, 2011

He’s an attorney with an international law firm; she’s a contributing editor to a national magazine and author of several books. When the busy couple decided to build their new home on a vacant Bucktown lot, they hired Bob Ranquist, of Ranquist Development, who had constructed the husband’s prior home. “He wanted the coolest house possible,” says Ranquist, who recommended Seattle architecture firm Miller Hull to design the resulting 5,200-square-foot, three-level, glass-and-steel structure.

“There were so many obvious ways to go in a very modern home like this, and what I think is interesting is that nothing is obvious,” says interior designer Jennifer Lissner Kranitz of Project Interiors, who often helps Ranquist’s clients select finishes and furnishings. To accommodate the wife’s desire for a centrally located office that would allow her to keep an eye on her kids while she worked, for example, the architect located the office in front of the house overlooking the street in the spot normally reserved for the living room.

“Miller Hull ditched the sense of convention that dictates 95 percent of all Chicago homes and developed a whole new floor plan,” Kranitz says.

Creating a quiet work environment in the front office is as easy as sliding shut three 12-foot-high girded steel doors with portal windows, which recess neatly into black cedar walls when the work day ends.

“There’s a repeated use of contrast in this house,” says Kranitz, who points to the random-width oak flooring, marble countertops and teak master bathroom accents as organic elements that balance the modern architecture. “You have the warmth of wood and the cool of steel.”

To counterbalance the home’s masculine elements, the wife also worked with interior designer Kara Mann, who covered the floor-to-ceiling windows in her office with long, gauzy black sheers that filter the sunlight and helped the wife choose a comfortable settee covered in a dusty pink fabric and a butterfly wall covering for the wall behind her desk. “There was a dreaminess about the wall covering that evokes the space,” Mann explains. “That’s her haven, so we had to make it something really special.”

Mann used another whimsical wall covering with a large-scale iguana pattern in a bonus sitting area on the spacious third-level landing. “I like to infuse the very modern feeling with a little dose of quirkiness,” the wife says.

Unobstructed by neighboring homes on the south side of the house, which faces an alley, natural daylight floods the bonus seating area along with the entire house. Although the home faces a neighboring house on the north, Miller Hull devised an ingenious solution to brighten the area. “The upstairs part of the house is like a smaller box on a larger box,” the husband says. “A skylight runs the entire north side of the house, so it lets natural sunlight beam in.”

A long, narrow fogged window makes an interesting kitchen backsplash and brings in even more natural light. The window’s strong horizontal lines echo those in the kitchen island and just outside the back door, where a 16-foot bridge connects the second-floor living area to another rooftop deck built atop the garage behind the house. “There are really high soaring ceilings, so to counterbalance that, we drew the eye on a horizontal plane,” says Kranitz, who points to the matching casework along the north wall of the home. “It flows from the office to the dining room to the kitchen to the media room.”

The lines draw visitors from the entrance through the space and out onto the deck, which features a grill and a refrigerator, plus a living room with a fire table and a flat-screen TV designed to withstand the harsh Chicago elements. “During parties, the roof deck feels like Skybar in L.A.,” Ranquist explains. “There’s nothing I would change about this house.”

Although building such a unique home offered its own set of challenges, the owners moved in less than one year after the groundbreaking, and they showcased the results with a big summer party just a few months later. “We feel like we helped add to a very eclectic and creative neighborhood,” the husband says. “There’s nothing like it, but it doesn’t feel out of place.”