More than 150 architects along with editors from Residential Architect magazine boarded buses the first morning of Reinvention and toured four very different residences plus one sleek product showroom. As with every house tour, we seek out dwellings designed by prominent local architects who devote a significant amount of their time to residential work. This year’s tour featured all single-family custom houses, but they offered attendees vastly different styles, settings, locations, and programs. The tour stops ranged from a guesthouse for large family gatherings that sits on a large parcel of farmland to an architect’s own house on a tight urban infill lot just minutes from Chicago’s downtown loop.
The architects and, in many cases, homeowners, met us at each house. These generous hosts gave an overview of the projects and hung around to answer questions. All of the attendees were very appreciative to the owners who opened their homes and the architects who took a day off from their day jobs to describe and discuss their work in person. Read the descriptions below and click through the images in the accompanying slideshow to get a glimpse of the interesting stops on the 2012 Reinvention house tour.

Tang House, Lake Forest, Ill., byStuart Cohen & Julie Hacker Architects

Stuart Cohen greeted us at the custom house that he and partner Julie Hacker designed 17 years ago and remodeled five years ago. The homeowner, who’s a professional artist, also met with us and answered questions about the house as well as her art, which was on prominent display throughout the house. Cohen described that he and Hacker designed the house as a contemporary version of traditional Shingle style, which they decided upon in response to the heavily wooded site. Light-filled rooms—ideal for an artistic client—feature high ceilings with numerous skylights and clerestory windows so interiors gain sunlight from various angles throughout the day. A tower room was one of the favorite spaces for tour-goers, although the open kitchen and family room, which led to a stone-paved patio, also drew a lot of compliments.

As our group gathered to move on to the next stop, Cohen told us a little about the history of this small cluster of houses set in a densely wooded area. “Adrian Smith from SOM bought the Mayo & Mayo house you passed up the street,” he says, “along with all of the land around it.” Smith divided and sold some of the land with the caveat that buyers had to hire architects from an approved list or else pay him $300 an hour to review and approve the design. Cohen concluded the anecdote by revealing that this house was the only one designed by someone on that list.

Crab Tree Farm Guest House, Lake Bluff, Ill., Vinci|Hamp Architects

The next stop was a guest house, pool house, and swimming pool recently built on the grounds of a large working farm with a rich architectural history. Principal architect John Vinci gave us an overview of the new buildings and how they fit into the historic surroundings, such as a nearby cluster of barns by S. S. Berman and a small house by Harvey Ellis. (Vinci|Hamp also restored many of those structures.) The new guest house originally was going to be a glass house because the client served an instrumental role in saving the iconic Farnsworth House. The property is owned by John Bryan, former CEO of Sara Lee, who later talked with the group about his passion for architecture and design.

Vinci and Bryan decided a better solution was to make the new buildings mimic the forms of the diary barns and other agricultural structures. The bunk house even has a four-story tower to balance an old watch tower. The new guest house does have a back wall that’s completely glass in homage to the Farnsworth House. A sleek and serene landscape—designed by Wirtz International—with reflecting pools and a man-made knoll that blocks the road lies just beyond that glass wall.

Furniture by modern artists and craftspeople adorns the guest house. Bryan collects Arts and Crafts pieces, with a highlight of his collections being a Gustav Stickley interior setting complete with millwork, furniture, and art. The property’s curator led the group over to the Stickley display where Bryan shared details about the restoration and assembly of the space, a former power plant for the property that was repurposed by Vinci|Hamp. Then everyone had time and freedom to wander through other buildings with their impressive installations of art and design objects. We also got to meet the current artist in residence who created all of the woodwork for the new Vinci buildings, Mike Jarvi. A few tour-goers were so impressed that they ordered pieces. It was tricky to tear everyone away from this sublime setting and the bus was buzzing with conversation as we headed back into the city.

Claremont House, Chicago, Brininstool + Lynch

Visiting at least one architect’s own house has been a hallmark of our house tours and this year Brad Lynch opened the doors to an urban infill project designed for his family. Although the house boasts a modern aesthetic, it respects its neighbors with a modest scale and contextual materials like red brick. The family lived in an old A-frame house on the lot for 17 years and already had a good relationship with the neighbors, which made approvals friendly. Twin glass walls on either end of the long, narrow footprint provide the wow-factor for passersby looking in or occupants enjoying panoramic views out. During the day, the window walls usher in abundant natural light even on overcast days like the one we experienced during our visit. At night, motorized shades afford privacy.

Lynch’s wife, Karen, talked with the group about the house and a stunning piece of art commissioned for it that occupies an entire wall of the open living/kitchen area. She told us that she had no idea what to expect when her husband began designing, but she loves the end result and especially is thrilled with the low-maintenance brick, zinc, glass, and natural wood finishes. She adds that it’s easy to keep clean thanks to oak built-ins that occupy the core of the house on all three levels and she touts the energy savings and increased comfort because of sustainable amenities such as radiant heat and passive solar orientation.

Bucktown Three, Chicago, Studio Dwell Architects

Also on a tight urban lot, the last house presented an unusual challenge of too much space for architect Mark Peters. The architect met tour-goers inside the front gate and explained that the biggest complication occurred when the owners purchased an adjacent lot and asked for a bigger house—after construction was already well under way. Despite the late-breaking changes, Peters created a contemporary home with clean lines and graceful spaces. The extra land allowed for a footprint turned in on itself to generate a courtyard. Large expanses of glazing overlook the protected exterior space to generate private views and natural light inside. A partially covered roof deck above the garage was an instant hit with the group as was a secret roof garden accessed via a spiral stair. White surfaces throughout the home’s interior and exterior made the entire structure into a clean backdrop for the owners’ dramatic art collection, which consisted primarily of large format photographs.

World of Whirlpool, Chicago, Valerio Dewalt Train Associates

After visiting the four residences, the three tour buses dropped attendees at an historic renovation and rooftop addition to a Chicago landmark building.  The innovative project now houses the Whirlpool offices and showroom.  Valerio Dewalt Train designed the 28,000-square-foot addition on top of the 1914 Reid Murdoch building that overlooks the Chicago River. Elevators whisked attendees directly to the roof where Whirlpool opened its entire space for exploration and proffered drinks and hors d’oeuvres. A ribbon of undulating white ceiling connects the various kitchen scenes and according to the architects, serves as a reminder that the different brands share a singular commitment to design quality.

Two outdoor kitchens gave us dramatic views of Chicago, but the star of the showroom was the building’s historic clock tower, which was restored and outfitted with meeting and conference rooms. Climbing the stairs to the top of the tower was well worth the effort. Exposed brick walls ascend to the exposed top of the tower and give an up-close look at the back of the four clocks—one on each wall.  Lounge-like clusters of comfy seating and colorful lighting transform the space into an alluring and unusual employee hang out. Four slender balconies correspond to each clock face where tour-goers were able to stand outside in the misty rain—that thankfully held off until this final stop—and look out over the city.