news, project updates, and interesting stuff

The Conversation Pit has a home

The pine and stucco home on the corner of Hermitage and Potomac is now complete.  The nucleus of the home is a 13-foot square integrated, sunken seating space.  This throwback ‘love pit’ is perfectly suited to its modern surroundings.  With an open plan, the integral seating not only provides a central axis for the family but also a natural focus for socializing and entertaining.

Lowering the gathering space between the kitchen and the dining room provided not only a visual connection from front to back, it pulls family and guests out of the usual gathering space of the kitchen to a more central location. In addition, the walnut flooring provides a feeling of warmth in contrast to the cool aesthetic of the concrete floor of the main level.


Cafe Transit

Construction has commenced!  After review by the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority), we have received permission to begin work on the Norsman Architects designed, transit-oriented cafes for two stations on the CTA's Blue LIne.  Located at the Damen stop in the heart of Wicker Park/Bucktown and at the California stop in Logan Square, both intend to bring new life to the stations and quality products to the

Designed with the commuter in mind, these 100 square foot spaces will employ new technology to speed the ordering and delivery process, provide streaming social media and serve as an information kiosk as well as a neighborhood hub.  The goal of the cafes is to celebrate the commute, provide quality products and become a resource to the neighborhood.

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Leavitt Lumber Love

Our single family rehab and addition in Bucktown has largely wrapped up and our experiments in working with wood salvaged from its demolition have paid off!  In its construction every floor joist was salvaged and replaced with engineered trusses to level the floors and provide room for mechanical runs.  Due to the historic commercial use of the first floor, the demolition yielded a stack of 4" x 14" old growth timbers.  White pine boards with rings as tight as the grooves on an album.  In our estimation the timbers were installed 100 hundred years ago from trees upwards of 200 years old...totaling 300 years of history!

After planing down the boards, we re-used them in the form of a central stair, new built-up exposed floor structure, a new fence, tables...and perhaps a future trellis.  The newly-crafted century old lumber now has a beautiful finish and a rich history which will hopefully last another 100 years.


Good News for Caffé Streets

We’ve been Shortlisted!...apparently a good thing. Our coffee shop Caffé Streets is one of 9 bars and restaurants recognized in the United States and Canada for its design by the international Restaurant & Bar Design Awards. Another Chicago establishment is recognized as well…the renovation of Chicago’s historic Pump Room. See the link below:

Also Kudos to Darko and Caffé Streets for clinching the "Best Coffee Shop that is Nothing Like a Coffee Shop" in Chicago 2012 award by the Chicago Reader! The man is passionate about coffee.


Seeley site visit

This past week, Energy Diagnostics of Valparaiso, Indiana completed the initial LEED accreditation walk-thru for our new single-family residence in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood.  These energy auditors are serving as our Green Rater on the project, certifying the LEED process as it unfolds and ultimately, certification. Originally developed as a LEED-Silver project, it appears a Gold certification is readily obtainable.  Sustainable highlights include:

  • a geo-thermal system
  • whole house radiant in-floor heating
  • a rooftop photovoltaic array
  • a green roof with a sizable rooftop vegetable garden
  • insulation that far exceeds energy codes
  • high performing windows from Marvin
  • a storm water rain garden, locally sourced and sustainably harvested hardwood flooring from WD Flooring
  • high percentage of LED light fixtures
  • commitment to recycled and sustainable finishes.


Through these elements it's evident that our owner/clients are committed to setting an example for sustainable urban design in the Midwest.

One issue we've encountered during the LEED process is the lack of a specific category for the LED lighting we have specified.  Our Green Rater has said that he will appeal directly to the USGBC on our behalf for credit consideration.  In this case, special innovation credits will be issued and applied to our LEED point total prior to accreditation.

We believe that we will have the first all-LED recessed-lighted home in the City of Chicago.  Using Tech Lighting's Element fixtures we are able to achieve a very low profile, clean aesthetic across all of the ceilings while also saving tremendously on energy costs.  LED technology, albeit a newer technology in the residential lighting market, is highly energy efficient, reducing yearly energy bills by half as compared to compact fluorescent and with better light quality.  In comparison to incandescent, the savings can be up to 40 times as great.

Stay tuned as the project develops!  The large lot and courtyard design are taking shape.

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Wicker Park Rehab Progress

Norsman Architects' addition to an existing Chicago red brick single family home is nearing completion.  The building which sits on an oversized Chicago lot is on one of a few streets that does not benefit from a City of Chicago alleyway.  The original home utilized valuable green space with a driveway extending to a garage at the rear.  By shifting the garage to the front of the lot with the help of a zoning Administrative Adjustment, the substantial rear-yard green-space was reclaimed for our client’s growing family.

The central steel stair is in the process of being installed by Active Alloys and will be a visual anchor at the hinge between the old and new construction.  Standing seam exterior siding installed as a rain-screen combined with black stained cedar siding creates a neutral backdrop to the existing construction.

The project eliminates the burden of storm water runoff on the City's storm water collection system by redirecting rainwater to a large undergrond rain garden in the rear.  When landscaped, the yard will serve well as an urban wildlife habitat.

Our construction company, House Plant, Inc., is managing the project providing our clients with a design-build option.  John Wolters, previously of Studio Gang Architects, has joined our team to provide precision construction management oversight.

Cylinder Works is Underway

Our project at 1765 N. Elston has begun construction.   This existing mammoth steel cylinder factory on the Chicago River was purchased by our client a few years ago, with intent of converting it to a year-round indoor market much like the great markets of Europe.  Sadly, the City of Chicago commitment to no-change in the PMD’s (Planned Manufacturing Districts) would not allow it.  Perhaps our new mayor will be more receptive (listening?).

The current adaptive re-use design salvages the historic high-bay cylinder factory and constructs a building within a building.  The end result will double the usable floor space from the existing 65,000 s.f. to 128,000 s.f. and will be utilized as an office and small manufacturing incubator.  The turn-of-the-century building has an awesome interior presence through its sheer size, along with the the riveted steel framing and trusses.  The project is taking form with the installation of windows,  the reshaping of the river front, and the construction of the new storm-water management detention pond.

Previously, the entire 133,000 s.f. site’s polluted stormwater ran directly into the Chicago River.  With our new stormwater management design, the water will now be first filtered by the native plant landscaped detention pond before entering the city’s waterway.

Centrally located near the expressway, the Elston avenue bikeway and the Clybourn Metra Station, the Cylinder factory holds a prime location for business. The site is also at the terminus point of the proposed  Bloomingdale Trail .  We hope to enhance this connection when the trail takes form.

We are excited to be part of this grand building’s rebirth.  When we walked through the building with the owner the first time nearly 5 years ago, the building was literally beginning to be demolished.  Kudos to our client (Alex Pearsall of Property Adventures) for salvaging a big-bit of Chicago’s history and extending the building’s life for another 100 years.