A Dilapidated Workshop Becomes an Eclectic, Live/Work Haven for Artists Nick Cave and Bob Faust

Artist couple Nick Cave and Bob Faust work with Carlo Parente Architecture to craft a creative space in a 1920s industrial building in Chicago.

Stretching across an entire block in Chicago’s Irving Park neighborhood is an unusual brick building that’s part home, part studio, and part creative hub. The 1920s manufacturing building and former mason’s workshop had fallen into disrepair before being transformed into a space that celebrates creative pursuits and community. Known as Facility, it’s a unique undertaking by renowned artist couple Nick Cave and Bob Faust with architect Carlo Parente.

When artist couple Nick Cave and Bob Faust purchased the building, it was in rough condition. Portions of the roof structure were in disrepair and collapsing, windows were broken, and the basement had water damage. Many of the large openings had been filled in, giving the building a monolithic, uninviting feel. "It was essentially an abandoned building," says architect Carlo Parente. "They were very clear on the spaces they needed for working and living, and the organization of these spaces. They stressed the importance of open and flexible spaces, including the ability to display their works of art."

Nick Cave is a fabric sculptor, dancer, and performance artist who is best known for joyful and whimsical work, such as his wearable fabric Soundsuit sculptures. Bob is an artist, designer, and the founder of the cultural branding and communications studio, Faust. The couple founded the Facility arts foundation, which is based on the ground floor, and they live in the second-floor apartment with Bob’s daughter, Lulu.

Bob Faust and Nick Cave in the living room of their apartment, which is located on the first floor of the Facility building.

"Nick drove past the structure and was intrigued by its multibuilding facade and orientation through the block," says Bob. "He made an immediate appointment to get inside and was surprised to see the three buildings opened up into a single, massive space on the first floor, where the flow of the studio could fit. It has a homey and kind of ‘Chicago’ feeling from the outside, but it was adaptable to exactly what we needed."

"The most costly part of the project was the storefronts on both sides of the building—a result of the remedial work that the structure and masonry required," says Parente. "It was definitely worth it, as the seamless expanse of glass reinforces the building’s street-level prominence. It also allows for the quality of the light in the studio, which is important to the feel of the space. It’s dramatically different from the dark, cavernous space that was there before."

It needed to be many things—the meticulously considered brief to Parente was for studios for both Nick and Bob, gallery space for installations, performance and public events on the ground floor, and a home and artist-in-residence apartment on the second level.

"The central architectural idea was to allow the spaces—big, boxy volumes characteristic of manufacturing buildings—to be versatile, mutable, and open," says Parente. "I conceived of the entire building as a framework that could be easily manipulated and transformed—a space for working, making, displaying, and performing, as well as living and finding refuge."

The library by the entry forms a key part of the public spaces and adjoins the In and Out Gallery, which is a flexible space accessible from both the north and south streets. It’s open by invitation and hosts various exhibitions and events. 

"Carlo was our second architect, so we came to him with very developed ideas about how the space needed to function," says Bob. "His role was really in all the details and guiding us on things outside our own expertise. Firstly, the space had to make our workflow seamless; secondly, it had to connect and separate our own studios as well as our home; then it had to function as a neighborhood instigator. We also love the idea of retaining history and memory through the various patinas. There is nothing ‘tricky’ about the project—all the decisions are considered and as simple as we could pull off."

"The biggest challenge with older buildings is always the unknowns—opening up a building disturbs what has not been touched for decades," says Parente. "This really became apparent with the storefronts when we removed the infill blockwork to reveal decaying lintels. We developed cost-effective solutions that salvaged as much of the existing structure as possible."

The building comprises three interconnected masonry structures—the original structure (with three storefronts), an adjoining single-story annex, and a garage. There is also a rear courtyard. Facility’s main entrance and storefronts are located on the north facade, while the southern frontage is lined with shipping container fencing that acts as a public art wall.

Nick Cave’s workshop space on the ground floor features the original concrete columns. "There were signs squatters had occupied the space—graffiti on walls and left-behind trash," says Parente. "Most of the graffiti was cleaned, but portions were also left as evidence of this chapter in the building’s history and narrative."

"The design allows the previously lifeless building to become a part of the civic life of the neighborhood," says Parente. "While these street-facing programmed spaces engage the public realm, simultaneously they act as a buffer, keeping the studio and production spaces private and internal."

Circulation channels lie between the two studios on the ground floor. These spaces are wider than conventional corridors, and the walls are populated with art. This allows the area to maintain its function as a circulation space while also having the potential to perform as a gallery, a gathering space, a runway, or a performance venue as needed. This part of the gallery features a painting by Cy Gavin and a sculptural work by Matt Wedel.

The main public entry is located in the annex on the northeast corner. This block contains a library and lounge, as well as Bob’s studio, which has a separate entrance on the southern facade. The original two-story building holds Nick’s studio and a communal washroom and kitchenette, while the adjacent garage serves as a multifunctional space for art production and an event space. "The extensive glazing at the courtyard and along the storefront of Bob’s studio provides ample natural light and beautiful views," says Parente.

Nick Cave’s studio lounge features a kinetic sculpture by Christopher Furman and a large-scale spider drawing by London-based artist Margarita Gluzberg.

Nick Cave’s area of his studio features a large artwork in the shape of a cross by the artist himself. 

The second floor houses the private residential spaces—the artists’ home, as well as an artist-in-residence studio where Nick’s brother, Jack, lives and works. A bedroom and a kitchen form a rectangular block within the home, and the volume in between serves as a gallery wall on one side and a walk-through closet on the other.

"The boundaries between spaces tend to hybridize and blur, just as I believe the boundaries between their personal and work lives may sometimes blur," says architect Carlo Parente. "There are design elements woven through both levels that allow for a sense of openness—such as the free plan and the large openings and pivoting walls. At the same time, it’s a place of refuge for Nick and Bob—and the more private and personal spaces allow them to detach."

A large painting by New York–based artist Cy Gavin sits alongside the dining table, which is directly adjacent to the kitchen.

The apartment has been designed to accommodate the couple’s large and diverse collection of art. "Every surface is considered for the display of artwork—from the kitchen countertop, to the bathroom floor, to the top of a staircase," says Parente.

The kitchen features clean, white surfaces and stainless-steel appliances that offer a sleek, minimal backdrop for the artwork. The floral work hanging on the wall by the kitchen is by Nick Cave, the work on the rear wall of the kitchen is by Block 37, and the sculpture on the kitchen bench is by Del Harrow.

Off-the-shelf materials—such as the tiles and simple faucets in the main bathroom—were selected to help manage the budget.

The original structural masonry walls—the only full-height walls in Facility—divide the ground floor into separate studio spaces, and the second floor into Nick and Bob’s home and the artist-in-residence studio. All other spaces are delineated by partial walls, which create a light, open atmosphere and encourage freedom of movement. Many of these walls are moveable (both pivoting and sliding), to permit adaptable spaces.

"Given that the apartment is just for ourselves and my daughter Lulu, we were able to eliminate the need for most doors completely," says Bob Faust. "Given the layout and flow, we all can find private spaces as needed without ever feeling like anything is closed off completely. The beauty of not having doors is how the light transitions all the way through the apartment from north to south, over walls and through chases of space that are more like galleries than hallways." The painting in the bedroom is by Aaron Gilbert, and the work in the living room is by Kehinde Wiley. 

"Carlo came up with a pivoting wall system that is used primarily when events come indoors and we need to separate the studio from the more public galleries and common space," says Bob Faust. "The system creates good separation when needed for security reasons, but the walls disappear when not in use so you feel like there are no doors anywhere. It feels like a giant loft space with infinite possibilities." This part of the gallery features a sculptural work by Matt Wedel, a print by Hank Willis Thomas, and a work by Nick Cave.

"The lack of enclosed spaces creates an open concept, and the removal of doors and thresholds makes the space feel fluid and function flexibly," says Parente. "Traditional ideas of intimacy, openness, and shared public areas are renegotiated through spatial organization."

Artwork in the living room includes a painting by contemporary American painter Barkley L. Hendricks, a sculptural floral work by Nick Cave, and a portrait by Parrison. 

The budget was managed by keeping the material palette simple—including the use of construction materials that aren’t typically exposed, such as the AC plywood used for the timber stair that connects the living room to the rooftop deck. Reusing many of the existing materials also allowed the team to stay mostly within budget.

The plywood stairs that lead to the terrace from both the living room and the family room are a solution to the challenge of wildly varying floor heights. "Carlo solved this with what turned out to be a defining design element," says Bob Faust. "We now have platforms that usher you in and our generously. They also act as alternative seating and art spaces." On display in the family room is an African ladder, and an artwork by Block 37.

A private rooftop deck with a greenhouse/sunroom on the southwest end of the building offers Nick and Bob a space for retreat outside. The deck overlooks the courtyard on the ground floor and has expansive views over the city in the southwest.

"My favorite space in the whole building is the little sunroom off the living area of our apartment," says Bob Faust. "It is an unconditioned space that stays warm in winter due to the sun exposure and cool in the summer because it completely opens up to the outside. I have a coffee in there every morning, and it became my yoga studio throughout the COVID lockdowns. It is kind of like a Michigan cabin on the roof of our studio."

The former life of the old building is celebrated throughout, with many of the original features preserved. Even a large, inactive wasp nest in the sunroom on the rooftop has been preserved. 

"The most rewarding part of the project was the process, which was a true close collaboration," says Parente. "Nick and Bob are dream clients, and working with people as creative as they are forced me to question assumptions and revisit first principles: How can we achieve the architecturally necessary things in an effective, cost-conscious way? How can we redefine the customs that govern typical living spaces? The architecture of Facility isn’t about a style. It is truly about Nick and Bob. The space needed to be for them—and ultimately transformed by them."

"It was a journey to get in this space, but with each load unpacked, we saw how all the decisions made sense and supported the ideas of flexibility and workflow," says Bob Faust. "All the materials found a place to be stored carefully, all the art found a wall, and all the people had a space to call their own. Facility really turned out to be a warm place to work and live—and it keeps surprising and inspiring us."  

"For me, the best part of this space is that its entirety lets me live with my collection of art all around me," says Nick. "I like to say that it’s like waking up in my destiny. So it’s not so much a single space or detail [that I like] as much as it’s how the space takes care of me—and the ideas, things, and people I love." 

Ground-level floor plan of Facility by Carlo Parente Architecture

Second-story floor plan of Facility by Carlo Parente Architecture, showing the private living spaces.

Related Reading:

This Three-Level Loft in San Francisco Is an Artist's Sanctuary

A Rundown Bodega in Chicago Is Reimagined Into a Vibrant Live/Work Space

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Carlo Parente Architecture

Builder: Development Solutions Inc.

Structural Engineer: Louis Shell Structures

Cabinetry Design: Carlo Parente

Millwork Fabrication & Installation: Zak Rose

Library Shelving: Hatch Design + Fabrication  

Photographer: Michelle Litvin


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