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Trees of Life
By Thomas Connors | Photo: Jamie Padgett | October 17, 2016
Once the decision to rebuild was made, these Lincoln Park homeowners knew nature would be their guide. Architect Paul Florian listened, and this stunning modern masterpiece is the result.
The term “tree hugger” can be a badge of honor, and you don’t have be a charter member of the Sierra Club or a Greenpeace activist to fit the bill. Take the case of this Lincoln Park couple: Having lived for years in an 1890s house that had long since been stripped of any architectural charm, the two began to rethink their living situation. They considered renovation, and for a short time toyed with the idea of moving. But they owned a double lot, one of which was anchored by two mature white oaks. “We knew that if we sold, someone would probably take those trees down. We wanted to save the trees,” the homeowners agree.
Once that decision was made, the couple engaged architect Paul Florian of Chicago-based Florian Architects to help them realize a practical, purposeful home: one that allowed them to put down roots in a new way. They wanted a place that fit in with the neighborhood, but they had no firm idea of how they wanted their new residence to look. Florian, whose work ranges from scrupulously realized neo-traditional designs to timely contemporary projects, subtly steered his clients toward a decidedly more modern mode. “We really did not have a vision of this house as a very modern house when we started,” says the husband. “We didn’t want anything industrial. We wanted warmth and intimacy. We wanted it to be livable,” he explains. “Paul took us on a journey,” adds the wife, “and because we trusted him, we went along.”
“The clients wanted to make best use of the site without harming the garden, and they wanted a greater connection to the outdoors than they’d had before,” relates Florian. “They wanted informal living spaces, but other than that, the program was pretty open.”
With green space foremost in his mind, Florian devised a composition of three amply fenestrated volumes with a separate garage linked to the house by a covered passageway. The L-shaped plan—with the garage placed apart from the house—generates a more active relationship between the massing of the home and the open space, and also provides room for an additional garden area adjacent to the free-flowing kitchen and family room.
In addition to merging the interior and the outdoors through extensive glazing and multiple terraces, Florian fashioned the building as an arrangement of intersecting components. The flooring in the living room extends outward to form a patio under the towering oak trees. A black granite slab that marks a corner between the living and dining room slides outside to create a pedestal for a piece of sculpture.
Inside, Florian mediated the geometry of the home by combining hard and soft materials. The dining room terminates in a wall of cold-rolled steel, but the floor is bleached hickory. The kitchen contains a concealed refrigerator behind cabinets faced in reflective white glass while upper cabinets in stained, sliced maple provide even more storage and further camouflage the room’s functionality. The welded steel staircase features walnut treads. And to modulate the sheer transparency of the great wall of windows that face the shade garden, Florian topped it with a transom of patterned glass. “Paul spent a lot of time studying how the light comes in at certain times of the day and in different seasons,” says the wife. “That was definitely one of his priorities.”
From the street facade, where a plane of warmly hued Cor-Ten steel on the second story telegraphs the home’s architectural ambitions, to the black concrete block wall of the garage, which forms a wonderfully everyday backdrop to the greenery of the garden, the home strikes an understatedly artful balance. Florian’s design combines a rigorous consideration of the built form with a genuine—and generous—embrace of nature. Like the ancient white oaks that stood before it, this carefully plotted home is a fluent expression of its owners’ greenest desires.
Len Wolchuk Construction
True Colors Decorating
Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects
Cisneros Custom Furniture
Custom sofas, dining table, chairs and upholstery
Exclusive Wood Flooring Inc.
KSA Lighting and Controls
Music room sofa
Fabricated stone countertops, stairs, shower walls and paneling
Nixon Art Associates
Art consulting throughout
Scott Group Studio