In the client’s mind, it all began with a warehouse.

The high-powered businessman wanted to find a warehouse and convert it into a home. He wanted to keep the industrial building’s rough-hewn edges and materials—metals, wood, concrete, copper—expressed and exposed, while still making it welcoming. And he hired Brad Lynch of Brininstool + Lynch for the job.

But finding the right warehouse, or former industrial building, proved a tall order in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. More than 20 years of gentrification had claimed—by condo or demo—many of the suitable buildings that were once easily found there.

Lynch had a solution: Rather than converting an old building—especially when no one knew if the right one would ever come along—why not design and build an entirely new and contemporary house, using the same mix of materials found in an industrial structure?

During dinner with his client, Lynch turned to the proverbial napkin sketch as a method of persuasion. (“I sketched it out on the back of a placemat covered in tomato sauce” Lynch says. “He says he’s still got it somewhere.”) And the client was sold. 

In the final house, which was completed in August, behind a Cor-Ten steel fence on a Bucktown residential street, it’s all there: brick, weathered copper, steel. But the industrial package is bundled in a refined and sophisticated urban architecture where the materials, their texture, and their beauty are simultaneously subdued and boldly let loose. The materials aren’t just tacked-on; they help give the building form, character, and function.

The home is also sustainable; it’s efficiently heated and cooled with geothermal systems beneath the landscaped courtyard. Mechanical window shades shield and permit sunlight to passively heat and cool the home when needed.

In the following Q&A, Lynch talks about the three-year journey to get the house built.

Lee Bey: The owner starts off wanting to live in an actual warehouse. How did you get him to the realization that a house is what he needed?
Brad Lynch: Ultimately, the things he was looking for are the materials and a courtyard effect. And both of those can be achieved in a house on available lots that would take up the same room as the type of warehouse he was looking for. In terms of the aesthetic and the spatial quality, we can really achieve more by doing a new house as opposed to trying to work within the configuration of a warehouse. You can configure the house around the courtyard. It is essentially creating privacy from the street, and having a way to get through a fence and a Cor-Ten door and work your way into the courtyard.

  How long did it take to convince him?
It didn’t happen right away. He wasn’t really sold on the idea because he wanted his home to be old and have that sense of brick. So I told him, when this is done, whatever he was dreaming about in this warehouse, I promised him he would have the same sense in the house.

I think he would agree—I know that he does—that he got that.

When you come into the living room, what do you see? The brick of the fireplace going out into the courtyard. When you’re in the kitchen, what do you see? You see across the courtyard to brick. So everything we talked about in terms of being encapsulated by this façade of beautiful brick is what he ended up getting.

You were able to bring in all the materials that a warehouse would likely have.
And those materials also serve a functional purpose, in terms of the way you can organize them—with what works best for the space and the lot—and aesthetically they’re more balanced and together as a whole.

When you couldn’t find the desired warehouse in the neighborhood, you had to find a lot that was big enough. Were there houses here?
There were three very dilapidated structures set back at different depths; some were wood, mixed with brick. And they were all in very bad shape. A developer had bought them at the peak of the last real estate boom, and was selling them at the beginning of the recession. He had bought at least three lots to put two speculative houses on and obviously couldn’t do that because of where the market was. So there was an opportunity.

Were there any complaints from the neighbors or officials about the building? Because even though it uses the same materials, it looks physically different than what’s around it?
No, if you really examine the neighborhood and the lots and houses that are there, most of them are nonconforming. Some of them are wider than others. Some of them are taller than others. Some are built of different materials.

If you were to have a panoramic view of the block it would be truly disparate in terms of the time these buildings were built, the materials that were used for them, what the aesthetics were, and the size of the lot. This obviously is a contemporary response, but actually uses traditional materials that are not in conflict with what’s in the surrounding area.

One of the first elements you see is the slatted fence, made out of Cor-Ten, which is a popular material in Chicago. How did you select it?
Well, the landscape architect really designed it, and both the owner and I got to give input in terms of where we went with it. And I think we all agreed that the look of Cor-Ten would be really inappropriate for the neighborhood; it seems like it just belongs as an urban-material element. We picked where those slats would be more open and more private based on where the owner wanted to see out. You get a sense of openness, but you can’t really see in. There’s a sense of anticipation.

How did the house’s street presence develop?
We really wanted the façade to be a composition, more than an idea of window placement. In the city, everybody has their blinds or drapes drawn. In this house the light goes through, they get the sense of light and sky, but the composition allows it without having to pull the shades.

There’s the great copper element. There are other industrial metals you can use—aluminum, for example. But the copper is what we see. Why?
The client really wanted copper, and he wanted it pre-weathered. We didn’t want it to look like anything else, so we spent a lot of time studying this pattern, which is not sequential. The closer you get to it, the more interesting it becomes; it’s not just the openings, which are larger in certain areas than others, it’s the embossing of the material. It has some life to it.

What about the courtyard and this relationship between inside and outside?
It really began with these three lots, and then saying, well, I don’t need a house that covers the whole property. A lot of the square footage in this house is not about habitable space; it’s about how it works with the site.

In a northern climate like this, having the ability to experience the outdoors from your living space, no matter what time of year it is, is a luxury. It’s like having your own park. And so to emphasize that, rather than de-emphasize it, copper panels move in and out of the space, the granite is the floor for both the circulation outside as well as the circulation inside, and there is really no solid between. One works with the other.

The glazed front door and Cor-Ten gate are visible through the floating treads of the custom staircase that leads to the second level.
Christopher Barrett The glazed front door and Cor-Ten gate are visible through the floating treads of the custom staircase that leads to the second level.
Inside the pier, looking down the staircase.
Christopher Barrett Inside the pier, looking down the staircase.

Now that he’s there, is the client convinced?
It’s great. This is our fourth project with this client. But even so, it’s very difficult to sell something to a client that is not in their reality. If you can’t point to it and say this is what it’s going to be, this is what it feels like, and this is what it’s going to look like, they have a hard time imagining it—no matter how you model it. And so there is a trust factor.

Project Credits 
Designer Brininstool + Lynch, Chicago—Brad Lynch (lead designer); David Brininstool (managing principal); Dan Martus (project manager); Dena Wangberg (project architect); Joice Krysak, Eirik Agustsson, Hillary Hyson (project team) 
Mechanical Engineer AA Service Co. 
Structural Engineer Goodfriend Magruder Structure 
Electrical Engineer Dexter Electric Co. 
Civil Engineer Moshe Calamaro & Associates 
General Contractor Goldberg General Contracting 
Landscape Architect Coen + Partners 
Size 7,900 square feet (not including garage) 
Cost Withheld 

Materials and Sources 

Appliances Gaggenau (kitchen appliances); Sub-Zero (refrigerator, freezer); Miele (washer, dryer)
Bathroom Fixtures Geberit (in-wall tank system); Toto (wall mounted toilet); Vola (fittings); KWC (fittings);  Hydrology Chicago (fitting supplier)
Cabinets Stay Straight Manufacturing (custom); Boffi (vanities)
Ceilings Pyrok (Star Silent acoustical plaster system); Stay Straight Manufacturing (custom wood veneer acoustical panels)
Countertops Cold Springs Granite (Mesabi Black granite); Corian (Cameo White)
Fabrics Knoll Textiles (Second Shift Dawn drapery); Lutron (Mermet Basketweave  MS shade fabric in Charcoal/Grey)
Flooring Cold Springs Granite (Mesabi Black granite,); Kaswell (Walnut end grain block)
Furniture Rud Rasmussen (Kaare Klint Addition Sofa); Vitra (Jasper Morrison Place sofa and ottoman ); Luminaire (Avalon sofa)
Glass Assured Corp.
HVAC AA Service Co.
Insulation Dow (ThermaxCI; Styrofoam brand spray foam insulation RS Series)
Kitchen fixtures Mila (sink); KWC (faucet)
Lighting Control Systems Lutron Electronics Co. (RadioRA2)
Lighting Bega (exterior); Hunza (lanscape); Zumtobel; Con-Tech Lighting; Traxon Technologies; Bega; Bartco Lighting; Prudential Lighting; USAI Lighting; all provided by KSA Lighting
Masonry and Stone Illinois Brick Co. (Norman brick, Yankee Hill brick); Green Leaf Brick Co. (roman brick)
Metal Chicago Copper and Iron
Paints and Finishes Benjamin Moore
Site and Landscape LiveRoof (tray system)
Wallcoverings Veneer Specialists (Custom wood veneer panels); Stay Straight Manufacturing (fabrication and installation)
Windows and Doors Hopes (steel windows and doors); Assured Corp (installation); Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope (aluminum windows); Loewen (aluminum-clad wood windows); Stay Straight Manufacturing (custom wood doors); FSB (hardware); Ives (hardware), CRL (hardware); LCN (hardware); Chicago Brass (hardware provider)