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The Rule Breaker
Kate Stahl | Photo: Cynthia Lynn, Portrait by Anthony Tahlier | December 31, 2013
A risk-taking entrepreneur proves that different is good with his unique Humboldt Park home.
Scott Zawitz has never been one to play by the rules—the home-design rules, that is. And his house, a 4,000-square-foot custom-built stunner, proves his willingness to think outside of the standard builder blueprints, paying homage to contemporary design, Asian influences and even Clive Christian, all under one roof.
“I took cues from the things I like, even though they’re things a developer probably wouldn’t do because they’re not a good use of money,” says Zawitz, the owner of Fort Pitt Hotel Furniture Liquidation. “I definitely got lectured a few times for going overboard on things, but I built this house for myself, not for anyone else.”
First on the “overboard” list is the exterior of the home, which is surrounded completely by custom masonry. The stonework is echoed by a 40-foot fieldstone wall that greets guests in the entrance, which also features a latticed mahogany front door inspired by the entry to the Chambers Hotel in New York.
The grand exterior stands out on its Humboldt Park street, otherwise filled with 100-year-old clapboard houses and some cookie-cutter new construction, built by fellow “pioneers” willing to make the move slightly east of California Avenue and into a neighborhood not exactly known for high-end homes.
“I’ve lived in probably five or six residential neighborhoods in Chicago, but I never felt the need to be in the Gold Coast or Lincoln Park,” Zawitz says. “I’ve always liked pioneering. I lived in Fulton Market when it was all hookers and rats, and look at it now. Most of the locations have worked out, and this neighborhood has developed and gentrified pretty quickly.”
Zawitz, who splits his time between Chicago and L.A., admits that cost was a factor when picking the location of the home’s double lot. Moving to an up-and-coming part of the city allowed him a bigger budget to play with the actual home, which includes four bedrooms, five full baths and a 1,200-square-foot roof deck. “I wanted a big outdoor space,” he says of the deck, which is covered in nearly indestructible, solid-core wood alternative Trex, which his builder, flown in for the two-week project from Colorado, laid out in an intricate pattern including raised, stage-like elements. “You don’t get much time to be outside in Chicago, but when you do, you want the space. I’ll admit it’s a pretty hardcore deck for Chicago standards.”
Inside the home, Zawitz considers the most important architectural element to be the showstopping staircase: four flights of white lacquer subway bricks, floating custom-stained oak treads and sparkling glass neon tubes. “It’s really like the stairs are floating in space,” he says.
Upstairs, the 1,000-square-foot master suite also employs stonework, with porcelain tiles covering the floor of the entire space, which tends to raise eyebrows with its clear glass walls separating the bedroom and the bath. “Some people think it’s crazy because there’s no privacy, but I consider the whole room my private retreat,” says Zawitz, who shares the home with his partner, Todd Herlin.
In stark contrast to the home’s modern elements is the baroque Clive Christian kitchen filled with gold-leafed English-style cabinets, gilded details, Venetian plaster walls, an intricate coffered ceiling, and a tumbled-limestone and walnut floor. “It’s very fancy and a little over-the-top; some people might call it gaudy,” Zawitz says. “But it was going to be its own separate room in the house, and that was my vision.” He continues, “I built this house for me, and I’ve gotten years of pleasure out of it. I like the idea of doing something from scratch and then loving the final product. I have lots of ideas about what I want to do next.”