Originally a dairy distribution center, this historic masonry complex in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood was most recently a sculpture and contemporary art workshop.
In 2008, VHA was retained to transform the facility into a new single-family residence. The exterior masonry walls of the three-story barn and the one-story commercial structure were preserved and a new interior layout was designed to focus on a large courtyard at grade level. Major living spaces are on the first floor and open to the courtyard. Bedrooms are located on the second and third floors and connect to three separate outdoor terraces. A small basement houses mechanical, storage, and exercise rooms. The project features entirely new building systems, including a high performance exterior envelope.
Chicago has often been described as a city of neighborhoods, and one of the most desirable neighborhoods is Lincoln Park, just over 2 miles north of the Loop. The neighborhood’s proximity to the lake is certainly desirable, but so is the old, low-scale building stock, made up of residential and other building types. The Mid-North Residence, as Vinci | Hamp Architects call it, is the transformation of a 19th-century commercial building into a large house oriented around a courtyard. Let’s take a tour of the house, from the outside in.
House at a Glance
- Who lives here: A family of 5
- Location: Chicago
- Size: 9,100 square feet of living space
- That’s interesting: The repurposed building was once a barn (circa 1875), later used as a dairy distribution center and then art studios and galleries.
The brick exterior exudes Chicago: It is solid and has some decoration but is not overly flashy. The reuse of the building and its new function are signaled by the new door and transom on the right.
Minus this elevation and a facade on the narrow alley around the corner, most of the existing exterior had to be taken down and rebuilt. From this the architects created a modern residence that has a dialogue with the historical aspects of the site.
The wood door and opaque sidelight don’t reveal what lies behind the door, but the transom helps bring light into the entry space.
Upon opening the door, one is confronted with the courtyard, the heart of the residence.
At the back of the courtyard is what was the three-story barn — the one-story entry dates to 1900 and was a commercial space for the dairy center — and at left is a one-story volume, also part of the 1900 building. The taller volume is on the north side of the property, so this outdoor space receives plenty of sunlight.
The giraffe was purchased from sculptor John Kearney, the property’s tenant from 1950 to 2007. The artist is known for the Tin Man in nearby Oz Park. I remember seeing his “steel bumper” sculptures in the area, even a giraffe peering over a fence, when I lived in Lincoln Park.
This view within the courtyard shows how open the house is toward it. The ground floor has sliding glass walls connecting inside and outside, the stair core has plenty of glass facing south, and a series of terraces on the second and third floors face the courtyard as well.
The living room, which occupies the west side of the courtyard, is a simple, open space split into two zones by a large stone fireplace. Even though the space is simple, there are some things happening that are very smart: Clerestory windows face the alley on the west, bringing in light while maintaining privacy, and the ceiling along the walkway is lower than the adjacent ceiling, responding to the slope of the roof but also helping to further define the spaces.
Moving north along the walkway, one arrives at the stair that connects all three levels. The firm of John Vinci and Philip Hamp is well versed in stair design; the team actually inserted an old Mies van der Rohe stair in their design of the Arts Club of Chicago. The stair appears to magically float — free of visible supports at this level. The glass guardrails and open risers help keep the space at the back of the house very open.
Beyond the stair and family room of the previous photo is the kitchen, a large space with two islands and a large table toward the courtyard.
As mentioned, most of the spaces are oriented toward the courtyard, such as the eating area in the kitchen. Very nice.
On the second floor, the stairs bring one to a large terrace that also overlooks the courtyard.
This view from the third floor shows the orientation of spaces toward the courtyard, as well as how the building works: The entry is beyond, the living room (with a fireplace and chimney) is at right, and the second-floor terrace is in the foreground. Vinci, Hamp and team in essence have created a self-contained world for the family.
As in the living room and kitchen, the finishes in the upstairs rooms are quite minimal. Yet as this children’s room hints at, the spaces are a canvas for the family’s things. The way the wood trim is carried through to the bunk bed railing and ladder is a nice touch.