Before & After: A Cavernous Chicago Loft Undergoes an Artistic Renovation
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Before & After: A Cavernous Chicago Loft Undergoes an Artistic Renovation

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By Melissa Dalton
Vladimir Radutny Architects refines an industrial loft in Chicago, introducing a restrained palette with sculptural accents.

Dubbed the "Michigan Loft" for its covetous spot overlooking Michigan Avenue in the Motor Row district of Chicago, this transformed loft is situated in a century-old building that was initially built for automotive assembly and display. Around 2000, the building was converted to industrial style lofts. More recently, Vladimir Radutny Architects overhauled a corner unit to achieve a more functional layout and blend the industrial character of the building with refined and sculptural elements.

Before: Entry and Kitchen

Before: The loft’s interior felt disjointed and the kitchen crowded the entry.

At 2,250 square feet, the existing loft felt both cavernous and disjointed, without a thoughtful means for organizing the layout and little in the way of practical storage. The firm's redesign calibrates the scale to make the apartment more livable, starting with a new wood-clad entry zone lined with storage. "Now, as one enters this dwelling through a low, wood clad transition zone the overwhelming feeling of being inside a large industrial room is very much subdued," says the firm. 

There, ceilings with exposed rafters and warm lighting guide entrance into the living spaces with higher ceilings. A utility volume wrapped in wood with a concealed door keeps practical elements like the laundry machines, and brooms and mops, close by, without drawing attention.

After: Entry

The firm eliminated the awkward, angled section of mezzanine above and moved the working elements of the kitchen down the wall. Doing so gave the entry breathing room and now the corridor is lined with functional storage.

A Frank Gehry Wiggle Chair and Globe light from Ligne Roset sit beneath the stair. The metal encircling the concrete pillar was finished to match all of the other metal elements.

The wood through-line continues throughout the main space with a raised platform that wraps the perimeter of the room. The platform surrounds the living and dining area, and runs beneath the sleeping zone and stair landing.

A utility core in the entry hall is also clad in wood for seamless integration.

Before the renovation, the main living space, "wasn’t very comfortable," says architect Vladimir Radutny. "Since the exterior of this existing loft building has exposed uninsulated masonry walls with expansive windows, there isn't much physical insulation, which made the perimeter of the space very uncomfortable and somewhat uninhabitable." Additionally, the vast size of the room made it difficult to organize logical furniture groupings. 

Radutny’s solution was to "utilize the perimeter as this buffer zone," says the architect. The firm wrapped the room in a wood platform that serves multiple functions. The platform contains a heating element to help combat heat loss at the exterior walls. It also "allowed for all the furniture to be pulled away from the perimeter," says Radutny, to better organize the main space. The platform can also serve as a shelf to display art and plants, and alters the room’s scale so it feels a bit more intimate. 

Before: Kitchen and Dining

Before: The bright paint created visual chaos rather than define the space.

After: Kitchen

Now, a white kitchen recedes from the main space. A long island keeps the working area separate, yet still connected.

Elevating the kitchen on the platform also gives it a fantastic vantage point over Michigan Avenue.

Before: Living Room

Before: The homeowners found it difficult to organize furniture groupings in the large, undefined space.

After: Living Room

Furniture is now placed within the confines of the platform to create a defined seating area.

The master bedroom, or "sleeping cube," is tucked inside a black steel framework with a storage side facing the living room.

A television is concealed inside.

A black steel framework hosts the master bedroom, tucked beneath the structure’s concrete bays, to form a "sleeping cube." By pulling the suite away from the exterior walls, the firm was able to "highly control that space by creating another layer of enclosure," says Radutny. Storage on two walls creates closet space and buffers sound, as does a glass wall, which is the entry point. The result is a cozy spot to sleep and retreat, with a comfortable interior environment.

After: Master Suite

The master suite is enclosed with a glass wall on one side. The glass wall is a sound barrier, yet also admits light from the exterior windows when desired.

The walls are thickened by closet storage on two sides, which also controls the interior temperature and dampens sound.

In the master bath, frosted glass borrows light from the main spaces and maintains privacy.

After: Staircase

The staircase is a sculptural feature that brings together all of the elements of the project palette, including white concrete at the base, wood, and black steel. The white concrete is meant to appear as though it is emerging from the wood platform.

Floating tread allows sight lines between the entry and the opposite side of the room.

Before: Mezzanine and Upper Loft

Before: A cable railing at the mezzanine and upper loft only created more competing lines.

After: Mezzanine and Upper Loft

The mezzanine and upper loft are clad in wood, which fosters consistency with the lower level.

"As one moves between levels, a variety of unexpected vantage points and views are revealed," says the firm. 

The mezzanine can be used as a guest space, art studio, or office.

The bathroom skylight was a discovery made during construction. The contractor hadn’t yet finished the floor above, says Radutny: "One of the joists had an opening and it just looked like that wanted to stay open. So that became an opportunity to borrow more light into that room and create a visual connection."

The bones of the historic building were melded with the new design and are highlighted by the restrained material palette.

The stairs lead up to the upper loft and rooftop garden with city views.

The upper loft has an integrated desk space.

Main Level Floorplan

Mezzanine and Upper Loft Floorplan

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