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Diana Bitting | Photo: Steve Hall of Hedrich Blessing | July 14, 2014
A dedicated group of designers bands together with a single objective: to become one with Mother Nature.
Modernists rejoice: You’ve got another convert. Len Goodman, a criminal defense attorney, fully intended on a traditional Victorian-style gray stone home to rise from the plot of land he purchased in Lakeview across from Lincoln Park. But once Dan Wheeler of Wheeler Kearns Architects got involved, the conversion conversation heated up and Goodman was worn down. “I came around to that idea because it’s such a unique location,” Goodman explains. “Why put up a 100-year-old design? Why not do something unique?” He saw the light, quite literally; the main bay window for which Wheeler was pushing creates a seamless indoor-outdoor relationship with the expansive green lawn that could only be achieved with floor-to-ceiling fenestration. “There was lots of discussion about the bay window in the front of the house, which is the key element,” explains lead project architect Sharlene Young, AIA. “It’s exposed on three sides, an aperture in a way, that opens up to the park.”
The result is a stunning, stop-in-your-tracks contemporary cabin; a sculptural homage to a camera that is presented with a perfect balance between impressive and inviting. “We didn’t want it to feel like it was too big for the lot because that happens frequently in the city,” observes Young. The one oversize plat was enough for the homeowner, but two old growth trees to the north were in jeopardy of being cut down if he didn’t protect them. Plus, his two live-in puppy companions (mixed-breed rescues) could benefit from a little more room to roam. So he ended up buying an extra 20-foot stretch of side yard as well, which Leslie Cervantes of Gardens by Leslie, Ltd. outfitted with an Asian-influenced garden of pebble pathways and Japanese maple and bonsai trees.
Equilibrium was also achieved with the privacy versus transparency debate. Because of the scenic surrounds, the architecture team wanted to open up the house as much as possible, but the risk of noisy neighbors, and security, had to be addressed with sensitivity. “We had to figure out how to situate the house on the site with the challenge of the high-rises right across the street,” explains Young. “There are all these eyes on the house, so we had to tuck in the private spaces upstairs.” That meant narrow slits and a variety of above-waist and below-waist glass openings at different angles. Bathrooms and bedrooms were placed on the side opposite the main street, and outdoor areas have high walls. The ground-level side garden, of which the living and kitchen area enjoy views, features a full-height gate around the outer edge. The front glass facade allows light in, but curtain panels and rotating vertical walnut window louvers protect the living area and entry.
The attention to detail—big and small—is genius, and it took quite a few study models to get it right. Especially since Goodman did have opinions. “I was very involved at the beginning,” he says, “because I was concerned with what it would look like. It’s such a visible and unique location, I wanted the house to be worthy, and to be pleasing to the eye.” Once they agreed, Goodman checked out and simply wrote checks—a testament to the trust he had in the team.
There was one last request, however. The team was asked to remain cognizant of the environmental impact throughout the process, and Wheeler’s already innate understanding of “green” design practices was implemented immediately: determining the orientation of the building on the landscape, the positioning of the windows in the shell, the materials of the outdoor and indoor surfaces, and the systems as well. Sun screens help in the summertime to block some of the west-facing sun, and solar panels and geothermal wells help power the home and maintain a comfortable temperature without traditional HVAC or an air compressor. “It’s a high-tech house,” says Young. “The geothermal wells under the driveway go down more than 400 feet.” The dense, dark gray domestic limestone was sourced from Kansas and is used as cladding and paving around the exterior, also making an appearance in the mudroom off the side garden and the entry hall.
In terms of the interiors—finishes, furniture layout and hard surface selection—they come courtesy of Steve Kadlec of Kadlec Architecture + Design. He also designed much of the millwork and various design details. The challenge for him and his team wasn’t engineering all the nooks and crannies—although that was time-consuming. Instead, it was translating Goodman’s laid-back personality and casual lifestyle to communicate well with the new, more modern aesthetic. “Our task was to create a layer of warmth and accessibility for a low-key person,” says Kadlec. “We looked at the finishes—the flooring, windows, everything—and made them dog-friendly and family-friendly. It couldn’t look like it would require constant maintenance.” So Kadlec chose hand-scraped, bleached walnut for most of the home, applying it to the floors, the window frames and the cabinetry. He also oversaw the spacial planning of each floor and each room, and flushed out the kitchen and bathroom designs—this while considering the exterior architectural and natural elements as well. “The language of the interior finishes had to make sense with the setting,” Kadlec says. “We pushed things to be more textured and decorative, but we also respected a cohesive home.”
When it came to the furnishing specification and decor selection, Goodman chose a woman’s touch. Jill Schumacher, of Rariden Schumacher Mio Interior Design in Birmingham, Mich., who was recommended by a colleague, spec’d the more transitional upholstered pieces, with some woodsy, bohemian-style accessories and artworks as well to reflect the modern country home feel Goodman had envisioned. He also commissioned custom goods from friends and relatives; his nephew crafted the dining table, and his associate’s husband made the console table in the entry. The canvas above the dining table and the other above the hearth are by local artist Adam Siegel. Dena Lyons’ (also a Chicagoan) self-portrait hangs in the dining room, and her “Flame Tree” piece makes an appearance on the third floor.
In the end, the client had no regrets about the more modern form his home took on. “It wasn’t overnight—it was a process,” says Goodman, “but I love the design. I really do.”
Wheeler Kearns Architects
Kadlec Architecture and Design
Rariden Schumacher Mio Interior Design