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Exploring a Sweet Loft in the West Loop's Old Nabisco Factory

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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.

[Photos by Nick Fochtman]

The West Loop is rapidly changing, but as the area's large inventory old industrial buildings are given new life and put to new use, the neighborhood has become one of the trendiest areas to work, play and live in Chicago. Developers are rushing in on the area to convert brick buildings into office space and residences, but there have been some concerns about losing touch with the neighborhood's past. While tech companies are moving in and changing the image of the area once dominated by meat and produce distributors, many buildings pay homage to the neighborhood's history as a heavyweight in the food business. For today's edition of House Calls, we visited a unique loft in the former Nabisco plant in the West Loop. While it no longer churns out baked goods, it certainly is a sweet place to be.

Who lives here?
A professional couple in their early 40s, empty nesting and loving it.

How long have you lived here?
We moved to the West Loop from the southwest suburbs in November of 2012, just after the last of our two children went away to college. We both worked in the city, had friends in the city, and loved being there, so we were excited to be empty nesting and dove right in searching for a new place. We knew we didn't want to head too far north and settled on the West Loop just before the major boom hit the neighborhood.

What are the stats?
Our one-of-a-kind loft is a 3,400 square foot, two story, quad-level with two bedrooms, three and a half baths, and a rooftop garden deck.

What was your building before it was converted into residences?
Our building was one of the original National Biscuit Company (later shortened to Nabisco) bakeries, specially designed and built in 1902 to produce the company's popular Uneeda brand biscuits and fig bars. It was designed by the influential Chicago architecture firm of Treat & Folz. In 1954, Nabisco sold the building to J. W. Wilcox & Follett Co., a leading wholesaler of textbooks. The building was used to warehouse and package school textbooks, and by the 1970s the company (renamed Follett Corporation) expanded and bought dozens of college and university bookstores across the country. In the early 1990s, as they continued to grow, Follett sold the building to developers and it was developed into 180 residential units in 1995.

Have you found any Nabisco relics anywhere in your house?
Well, not exactly. Though our kitchen is built into one of the two-story biscuit ovens that lined the west side of the building! I suppose that counts as a relic. After we moved in, we were able to find and purchase some interesting pieces like an old architectural magazine article featuring the building and the original architects. We also were able to track down an old mail envelope dated from 1904 and a mirrored plaque with an old photo of our building that was used to reward Nabisco sales employees. We've got a few other original National Biscuit Company pieces, as well. My favorite relic is the steel truss that runs through our bedroom, because it is stamped with the words Carnegie Steel.

What are some of the things you did to the place?
Our loft was in pretty rough shape when we bought it in a short sale, so we've essentially renovated every inch and surface. We kept the bones the same, aside from the kitchen and the master bedroom and bathroom, which we completely reconfigured. We were lucky to find an amazing contractor, Vero Design + Build, who did an fantastic job. In the kitchen, we had custom cabinets built by local Chicago millwork artisans Sharchitecture, and we finished it off with professional-grade Wolf and Sub-Zero appliances. Our kitchen table is an old bowling lane from an alley in Springfield, IL that we had the Sharchitecture guys turn into a table for us. The light fixture over our island is made up of a barn trolley we bought at the Randolph Street Vintage Market and some pulleys we found in an antique store in Toronto. We commissioned talented Chicago artist Phillip Schalekamp to build it for us.

In the main area of our loft, we've got 28' ceilings with exposed iron beams, so we wanted to warm the walls up with some reclaimed wood that we recovered from an old barn in Sycamore, IL. One of the walls features a guitar collection that are lit by old studio spotlights from the old Playboy office in Chicago. We gutted all four bathrooms and outfitted them with custom cabinets, new tile and fixtures. We decided to convert the first floor bathroom from a full bath with a shower to a larger powder room. We call it the Nabisco bathroom, since we kept it a bit on the retro side and we have some of the original National Biscuit Company relics on display there. The master bathroom was completely reconfigured to include a soaking tub and a large shower enclosure. We also decided to expose the beam, which was previously covered up, that ran along the top of the double vanities.

The top floor, which has access to the roof deck, has been renovated into an entertainment area with a wet bar and half kitchen. We ripped up the grey contractor carpeting that covered every floor surface and replaced it with 6" wide plank flooring throughout. The whole first floor, as well as the master bathroom, have radiant heat built into the flooring. We also just completed a sanctuary on our roof. The view from our building is magnificent, so we wanted to be able to enjoy time outdoors with some privacy. We discovered an amazing landscape designer named Groundwork Design, led by Julie deLeon. We're thrilled with what she designed and you can find us relaxing in our roof garden quite frequently in the warm summer months.

Can you talk a little bit about the design inspiration and vibe you wanted your home to have?
We both love large open spaces that can be outfitted to feel warm and inviting, so when we saw this unique industrial space we fell in love. It had the bones of everything we wanted in a home: open layout, one-of-a-kind design, history, and character. Plus we fell in love with the neighborhood. Luckily, we both have similar taste in design and decor, so we settled right away on a transitional mix of old and new. We brought in furniture that had an updated feel while also giving a nod to the history of the building and the space. Keeping a link to the original Nabisco factory space was important to us.

Which room do you spend the most time in?
We spend most of our time in our kitchen and living room space, though I spend a fair amount of time in the library among my various trinkets and piles of books.

What thing do you like most about your home?
There isn't a whole lot to not like about it! We've built our dream home and we hope we'll be here for a long time to enjoy it. The West Loop neighborhood is flourishing, with the best restaurants in the city just outside our door. Our neighbors are friendly, we're within walking distance to our jobs, and we live in the greatest city in the USA. We're very fortunate.

What thing do you like least about it?
Our noisy downstairs neighbor who loves to listen to '80s pop 18 hours a day.

Does your half stack go to 11?
Absolutely! Especially in response to the above question.

What do you like about living in the West Loop?
It would be easier to pick out things we don't like! It feels like Zagat heaven here! The entire area is foodie crack. Luckily we get in a little exercise walking to all the restaurants! Everything we need is here—the new Whole Foods, Soho House, Green City Farmers Market—and let's not forget the skyline views. We found our happy place.

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