Photographs are by Marty Peters, courtesy Studio Dwell Architects
Wicker Park and Bucktown on Chicago's northwest side are popular neighborhoods with an epicenter at the three-way intersection of North, Damen, and Milwaukee Avenues. A few blocks to the east of the intersection, and a half-block north of the excellent Quimby's Bookstore, sits this narrow four-story residence designed by Studio Dwell Architects. The popularity of the area is evident in the house itself but also in Ranquist Development's larger Urban Sandbox of which it is a part. This fairly cohesive modernist streetwall includes houses to the north also by Studio Dwell and and a multi-family project on the south designed by the Miller Hull Partnership.
The four-story house at 1617 North Wolcott locates the main living space above the ground-floor's four-car garage (off the rear alley), work/studio spaces and the front door. From the street the entrance is tucked under the cantilever of the top floors, accessed alongside a small rock garden. The dark masonry on this level is the only place that veers from the rest of the building's white masonry and cedar cladding. This dark base gives the impression that the upper floors float above it.
The intention was to create a home that no matter the mood or frame of mind of an owner, it makes them forget even their worst day; to create a light filled retreat in a tight urban setting; to create a residential Light Box. -Studio Dwell ArchitectsThis "Light Box" appears crisp and abstract owing to the composition of the window openings on the elevations -- primarily on the front -- and the articulation of the masonry. In the case of the first, the double-height living room is the only space that receives a window, the effect of its opening enlarged by the addition of the wood rectangle besides it; above it the master bedroom receives light from the side. With the masonry, it is articulated in a stacked bond, so the white box appears to be covered with a simple grid; this approach counters a reading of the exterior as masonry, which would occur if running or some other bond were used.
The Light Box effect continues inside in the way the architects shaped the four-story volume to bring light into the various spaces, while also creating usable outdoor space. This starts at the rear of the house, with the terrace above the garage. In the center of the plan, facing south, is a small light well that serves three floors and provides an outdoor eating area next to the kitchen. Even the side wall at the front of the house is set back from the property line to allow the windows for the master bedroom. Lastly, the third floor is notched at the back to create a terrace and two generous spaces on the roof round out the varied outdoor spaces provided the residents. Minimal finishes of white and wood make the interiors an almost mirror of the outside, two sides of the same Light Box.