Architect John Ronan recast a former office building as a private home in a fast-evolving Chicago railroad corridor.

In Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, a one-story bowstring commercial building was adapted and extended vertically as a loft residence by architect John Ronan for a photographer/artist couple. The existing structure was hollowed out for living space and a two-pronged studio, and bedrooms were hoisted into a three-story volume clad in metal siding with a scattershot of windows. The vertical massing preserves a healthy share of the site for courtyard—a seasonal extension of living space.

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Appearing almost as a glowing container stack, the corrugated aluminum addition relates to the low-lying structure’s commercial past. Not that owners Dave and Jeannette Jordano were saddled with rehab and remediation. The previous occupant, architecture firm Morgante Wilson, outgrew the 50-foot-by-50-foot footprint but left the space in fine condition.

“We had to talk John into doing this project,” says Dave Jordano. “He wanted nothing to do with renovation, but we gave him total freedom and, two months later, we were presented with this exhilarating design.” The experience changes dramatically as one travels the perimeter, moving from the front elevation’s equilibrium to lopsided massing along the alley. As the original structure recedes, the addition absolutely towers over the courtyard.

The gated courtyard was conceived in halves: a slightly sunken sandbox-like patio and a miniature green space. Its connection to both pieces of the house and the garage encourages traversal and use as an outdoor living space.

A new skylight regulates the living room’s natural light. Ronan set up great contrasts in the space with the bone white walls and ceiling, black wall unit with built-in fireplace, and the crisply framed courtyard. The owners enhanced the space further with vibrant photography and furnishings.

Saturation demarcates the line between the primary living space and kitchen in the existing open-plan structure. Were it not for tonal contrasts, aided also by a ground and polished concrete floor, the kitchen would be a virtual whiteout.

In the newly built media room, lower ceilings and natural wood flooring make for a straightforward character shift. “We always liked John’s minimalism,” adds Dave, and even such slight differentiation ably signals the transition to the home’s more private spaces.

The master bedroom with walk-in closet, on the addition’s second level, leads out to a garage-top deck overlooking the courtyard’s garden space.

Ann Sacks and American Olean porcelain tile cover every square inch of the master bathroom. Narrow, unevenly spaced rectangular windows are a calling card of the addition and Ronan’s most assertive move. Here the window is a horizontal clerestory, but others are low and vertical.


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