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Artists Transform Raw West Loop Loft Into Sun-Drenched Live/Work Space

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Welcome to House Calls, a feature in which Curbed tours the lovely, offbeat, or otherwise awesome homes of regular Chicagoans. Think your space should be featured next? Drop us a line with a few photos and details about your place.

[All photos by Nick Fochtman]

How do you take a large, open, raw former commercial space and turn it into a warm, welcoming and creative environment? This was the question that West Loop residents and artists Jon and Janet asked themselves when planning the overhaul of their loft space. To assist them in the redesign and renovation of their space, the couple tapped architect Matt Nardella of moss design. Jon and Janet not only wanted a place to call home, but they wanted to ditch their offsite art studio spaces and bring their all of their creative tools and energy all under one roof. The rehab provided some challenges, but the end result is a home made for work and play that is filled with custom made fixtures and natural sunlight. Even the homeowners' cats had a few things to be excited about.

Who lives here?
Jon, Janet and our cats MeiMei the Motorcycle Gang and Dobby

What are the stats?
The overall building was constructed in the early '80s and was originally built as an office building, which makes it interesting for residential use. We are just one unit in a larger loft development and we've got about 2,400 square feet of space. Our remodel created two bedrooms, a studio and two bathrooms, of which one is a part of the master suite. No garage and our only yard is the nearby rail yard.

How long have you lived here?
A year!

Walk us through the redesign process. What was the inspiration for the design and what did you hope to achieve in the renovation of the space?
Prior to our remodel the unit was one large undefined space with a kitchen and bathroom. We liked that it was open, but it needed more defined spaces. Unfortunately, the condo board wasn't going to allow new windows, so we had to be creative. We asked our architect moss design to help because of their unique ability to incorporate natural light into their modern designs. Their solution was to create what is essentially a large piece of millwork with operable glass windows that allowed natural light into the defined spaces. It's amazing that all of our rooms have access to natural light even though our exterior windows are limited. In doing all of this with an architect, we were able to customize a lot of the elements like the kitchen and even custom furniture and one-off steel pieces, which moss also designed and built.

Are there any particularly interesting stories about the renovation?
I think the most interesting part are the things we found as we peeled away the layers during demolition, including some not so nice water leaks from neighboring units, which we were able to fix. We also found these really cool industrial lights tucked away under the stairs which we were able to reuse in the kitchen and our closet. It was fun to see all the components get pieced together, especially our interior window wall. They built the frames offsite and assembled the pieces in the space. It all happened pretty quickly. Overall, it was fun the see the place transformed from an empty space into our new home. One of my favorite pieces is the tree on wheels, which was challenging since we had to find a species that like low light that our cats wouldn't eat.

Where are your cats' favorite hiding spots?
In their daddy's study chair, under the tree on wheels and under the stairs.

You're both artists. How has the transformation of your home helped with your creative process and studio art?
Our renovation gave me a chance to have my own studio at home—this really helped us cut down the cost. My studio is also a perfectly north-facing space that gets lots of natural light through out the day minus the direct sunlight in my eyes, whether working on my sewing machine or video editing on the monitor. A lofty and big home space definitely helps in relaxation after any intense brainstorming session, too.

What's your favorite thing about your home?
Obviously, we love it because it's ours with our own (and moss') design The wide open spatial structure provides great flexibility for hosting friends and family, on top of our own daily usage. Oh, we also have our country noise band practice at home too.

What thing do you like least about it?
Since our corner unit is on the first floor and we have the original poured-cement floor, along with a 13 foot tall ceiling, it gets a little chilly in here during winter. But this would explain why we have a brand new and powerful HVAC system!

What's the best part about being in the West Loop?
Our neighborhood has changed a lot, even in the two years since we purchased our space. While I like the redevelopment and the new things it brings to the neighborhood, I especially like the situation of our particular building. We are sandwiched between two sets of Metra tracks, so we'll always have open space around us and our light can never be blocked. The train gives us a unique sense of place that doesn't happen in most neighborhoods in the city. We are tucked away in our own little corner of the West Loop.

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