A Chicago Renovation Taps Into its Attic to Almost Double its Square Footage

A Chicago Renovation Taps Into its Attic to Almost Double its Square Footage

By Caroline Wallis
Careful craftsmanship, spiral stairs, and an airy catwalk help define this Second City architect's home.

Mike Shively, principal of an eponymous architectural practice, is the owner of this three-story remodel in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. By lowering the second story ceiling and making room for a livable attic, Shively almost doubled the home's size from 800 to 1,400 square feet. The building now accommodates a single-family rental unit below his own. "I knew the rules, and what conventions I wanted to break before I found this building," says Shively, adding "By the time I found the perfect building, I already had the sketch mapped out and just had to apply it to the particular conditions." The home's converted attic level not only fits two bedrooms but features a suspended catwalk that bridges the two. Wherever possible, Shivley looked to preserve or match original 1880s details, such as porcelain bulbs and building trim. Thus, what appears to be a traditional Chicago apartment from street level, manages to set itself apart with abundant natural light and multiple custom details.

Perhaps the most eco-friendly feature of the project is architect Mike Shively's preservation of the original structure. "I always believe in starting a project by identifying the best parts of what you have," he explains. "In this case [it was] the solid masonry construction and timber floor structure. I fired out all the perimeter walls and used spray foam insulation and Marvin windows to get a tight seal that keeps my heating and cooling costs low."


Wherever possible, Shively looked to work with local craftsmen. For example, all of the cabinetry was made by Lambright Woodworking, an Amish company in Indiana, and custom doors and trim were made by Jarzab Construction, a team of local Polish carpenters.

The kitchen features Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. pendant lights and Crate and Barrel stools. The woodblock island's leaf, at the far right, can lift upwards to expand the table when work or hosting demands it. The faucet is from KWC.

One of Shively's top priorities was an innovative lighting scheme that would combat the dark interiors that many narrow Chicago homes create. Thanks to centrally located skylights and rows of bulbs between wood beams, the house enjoys an even glow and details like this Le Corbusier chair aren't obscured.

"It was a design priority that any modern interventions had an articulate edge or gap against the existing space," says Shively. As a result, he designed a subtle gap between the exposed beam ceiling and the existing walls. The living room also features a Gus* Modern sofa and Adrian Pearsall coffee table.

Shively had a carpenter from TomKal Construction build a custom handrail, out of white oak to match his floors, for this spiral staircase.

Though hard to spot, another gap separates the new attic catwalk—which runs between the guest and master bedrooms—from the old walls. As with the living room ceiling, says Shively, "I wanted the new parts to float and have a sense of movement in the space." A steel structure underneath the walkway does, however, connect to the walls. The white oak floors also help the new attic level blend with the rest of the house.

Shively describes himself as "big on graphics" and designed these tiles, produced by Original Mission Tile in San Luis, Mexico, to add his own flair to the master bathroom. A simple floating vanity and minimalist shower let the custom tilework take center stage.


Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.