House Calls, Curbed’s weekly tour series, takes you inside some of the most stylish and creative living spaces in Chicago.
Over the years, the series highlighted works by big-name architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Netsch as well as fresh takes on vernacular architecture: from quaint workers cottages and rustic industrial lofts to innovative twists on classic brick two-flats.
The series also shines the spotlight on the diverse Chicagoans who’ve crafted these homes, who often work in creative fields such as architect, art, design, urban planning, and the restaurant industry.
Without further ado, may we present our favorite Chicago House Calls.
Inside the quirky Old Town home built by design pioneer Walter Netsch
In the 1960s, architect Walter Netsch, a design partner at Chicago’s Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), pioneered a design system known as field theory. The method, born from the architect’s work on the U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel, employs both large and small scales of a geometric figure, often a rotated square, to develop a structure’s plan.
He also brought the method home with him, employing field theory to design his own house in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago in the early 1970s. Netsch and his wife were prolific art collectors, amassing a collection of work by Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Claes Oldenburg, and others. Over time, the house became a showcase for both art and design. (...more)
This renovated 1890s Bridgeport cottage is a maximalist ode to the 1980s
Meg Gustafson is a big fan of the artist Duggie Fields, who once wrote that maximalism is “minimalism with a plus, plus, plus.” That sentiment is on full display in her 1885 Bridgeport worker’s cottage turned 1980s playland, all in homage to a decade that’s seen a resurgence as of late.
“I had lots of ideas, but didn’t know how they were going to translate” Gustafson says of her early thoughts on how to meld her love of the 1980s with her new 1880s house. She has an eye for the 1980s, having run an ’80s-themed interiors Tumblr starting in 2014 that has recently migrated to Instagram, and has grown to showcase all sorts of memorabilia and design. The craze around midcentury modern furniture and styling drove her further into a love affair with the zaniness of postmodernism. (...more)
In Bucktown, a plant-filled home fit for a dinner party—and a disco
Chicagoan Nate Chung’s Bucktown loft was previously a calculator factory. It fits: Chung, an artist and restaurateur originally from Hawaii, is a self-identified problem solver. An enterprising spirit ties his professional activities to his personal ones, and has been a characteristic Chung relied on as he made the apartment his own.
Deciding to strike out on his own after living with roommates for a number of years, Chung embarked on a two-month search that brought him to a bright, open space with 13-foot ceilings. He knew this one had to be his. “I just felt like this is going to be home,” says Chung. “I love how it has this contrast, this previous history of industry.” (...more)
A light-filled family home in classic Mies van der Rohe tower
When Eric Rothfeder, the architect and designer behind firm ERA, moved to Chicago from the East Coast in 2016 to serve as a visiting artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the possibility of dwelling in a Mies van der Rohe-designed building wasn’t not on his mind. After all, Mies van der Rohe is in many ways synonymous with Chicago.
Rothfeder and his wife initially rented a 13th-floor unit in Mies-designed Commonwealth Promenade Apartments in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. And, serendipitously, it wasn’t long until their apartment came on the market. It sorely needed a refresh and Rothfeder served as both architect and general contractor. (...more)
An 1889 factory in the South Loop transformed into a home and design studio
Almost immediately after designers Sarah and Jeff Klymson bought a small loft in Chicago’s South Loop in 2007, they began making plans to fulfill their grander vision of home. Then, in the fall of 2014, seemingly out of nowhere, they happened upon a former factory, circa 1889, just three blocks away.
The renovation process, which took about 18 months, wasn’t without its obstacles. “There was a boat motor on the second floor that still had its propeller,” Jeff explains. “There was a forklift on the main floor that was basically decomposing and a 12-foot-tall cement mixer on the main floor.” They had to remove 24 dump trucks worth of trash to clear the space. (...more)
A West Loop loft gets a tailored remodel
As Chicago resident Julia Wood searched for her first home, she eventually gave up trying to find the perfect place and started searching for a home where she could build what I was interested in. Using that approach, she found a West Loop loft that she could mold to fit her needs.
Before the remodel, the space looked like the sort of place Gordon Gekko of Wall Street might want. “It had a lot of strange ostentation—chocolate-brown walls; lights that were half ‘art,’ half fixture; ornate custom millwork; and a bathroom so full of disparate elements, it looked like a design student’s sample box. The place was in need of a full refresh,” says Klymson. (...more)
‘We weren’t interested in hiding the L—we live in the city and that’s part of it’
For some people, the rattle and hum of Chicago’s L train might be annoying, but for the owner of this home on the Southport Corridor, it’s a long familiar sound. “You have to understand, I grew up in Chicago, and my parents’ house—which they still live in—is just eight feet from the L,” he says.
The couple, a developer and an arts professional, hired architect Vladimir Radutny to transform the 19th-century brick two-flat building into a single family home that’s anything but expected. We wanted to keep the architectural integrity of the street and not disrupt its fabric,” the homeowner says. “But inside, we knew we wanted it to be a minimal white box.” (...more)
An old grocery store transformed into a live-work space of their dreams
Architects Matt Nardella and Laura Cripe, co-founders of Moss Design, spent two years searching for the right building to serve as their home and studio. When they found a large Logan Square structure that had once been a grocery store, they knew their vision could become real.
The project began with a massive clean up on aisle 10, so to speak. “There hadn’t been a lot of maintenance happening in the several decades of business,” says Nardella. The couple carved out the center of the building to create a courtyard that would allow natural light to enter the structure’s core. They added a second story (it is now a residential rental unit) to the oldest part of the building. (...more)
Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house becomes an architect’s home in Lake Forest
Megan Beidler has loved Frank Lloyd Wright’s work since her days studying architecture at SCI-Arc in Los Angeles. But even back then, she never dreamed she would actually own a home by the noted architect. Years later, while planning a move to Chicago, she came face-to-face with a Frank Lloyd Wright home that would change her life.
She was walking with her soon-to-be-husband (who is coincidently named Frank) in his hometown of Lake Forest, Illinois, when a home-for-sale sign caught her eye. She remembers: “I glimpsed the house through the trees and I said, ‘That looks like a Frank Lloyd Wright!’ My husband said, ‘I think I’d know if I grew up two blocks from a Wright house!’” (...more)
Inside an artist’s sunny Hyde Park apartment designed for entertaining
When asked about the style of her Hyde Park apartment, artist Laura Letinsky says it represents “lots of desires with limited means.” Letinsky’s love for cooking and entertaining informed two of the home’s biggest renovation projects.
The kitchen got an extensive makeover with a new stove, storage, floor, countertops, and cabinets. The building’s back stairs—which were in sore need of structural updates—were replaced by larger balconies supported by a contemporary steel frame. The end result ended up earning an award from AIA Chicago. (...more)
Take a trip back in time inside this carefully restored Logan Square apartment
Penny Anderson always knew the distinctive orange brick building in Logan Square that her parents bought in 1966 was unique. “I knew when I saw it, that it was so special,” she says. “It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I was impressed with it then and I’m still impressed with it.”
So when Penny’s parents wanted to sell the 1911 building, she and her now-husband Bruce borrowed money from his parents to buy it. After that, the couple—fierce advocates of architectural preservation—embarked on a restoration of their apartment in the building, honoring Schock’s original design but making the space their own. (...more)
The whimsical, hand-painted chaos of this two-flat turned colorful artist commune
After years of renting in Chicago neighborhoods located on the city’s north, west and south sides, first-time homeowner Eli purchased a place that he could do with as he pleased. Now, after many coats of paint and a few roommates later, Eli’s self-described artist commune is a fun and colorful space with an inviting, in not eccentric, atmosphere and a constantly changing collection of young creatives.
“I let my roommates do what they want whenever they want to do it,” says Eli .”The other day a few of them got together and repainted the back stairs with an amazing rainbow pattern. They did casually mention it beforehand, something along the lines of, ‘Oh, we’re going to paint the back stairs tomorrow and it’s going to look great!’ but they definitely don’t need my permission. (...more)