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Tour shows off Chicago's modern homes

October 03, 2013|By Matt Lindner @mattlindner | For RedEye

Anne Gold is two weeks away from giving birth and yet this weekend, she’s set to invite dozens of strangers into her house to, well, check things out because John Issa, the guy who designed the place, wants to show off his handiwork.

“John asked us to participate in the tour, and he and his family have been very nice to us, and I respect them, so we agreed to allow the tour, despite the bad timing,” she said.

Gold’s home, on a triangular lot in Lakeview, is one of six that will be part of the Modern Home Tour on Saturday.

Gold, 35, said she chose her home largely because of its aesthetic qualities.

“We loved the flow and function of both the inside and outside of the house, and the beautiful natural lighting,” she said.

The self-guided tour, which runs from 11 a.m. from 5 p.m., takes participants on a tour of private homes with modern architectural features that are equal parts aesthetically pleasing and practical, featuring homes ranging in size from an 8200-square-foot home in Northfield to a 1,000-square-foot Gold Coast condo.

The tour serves a dual purpose, showcasing the latest and greatest in modern architecture while shining a light on a handful of Chicago area architects responsible for the designs.

“I think that the benefit to us as architects is that you get to meet people face to face, which is invaluable,” said Dan Tornheim, 40, an architect who designed the interior of one of the featured properties at 1325 N. State Pkwy. “We’re able to show a space firsthand and answer questions about the project and what we do as professionals. I feel that when people are educated about a project and the architectural process it’s a benefit to them as well as us.”

Tornheim was able to redesign a two-bedroom condominium that was built in Northfield in the 1960s and make it into something that feels more modern.

“The inspiration for the space came from my understanding of the client’s style,” he said. “She had grown up in living in a modern home designed by a notable architect and was cognizant and welcoming of that style. She also loves Parisian apartment design, so the designers and I used that as an additional influence for the new apartment.”

But sometimes the best laid plans don’t go according to schedule.

What originally started off as a request for a new walk-in closet turned into a complete overhaul of the space, resulting in a home that features a more contemporary style.

“After seeing the space and talking with the client I felt that the existing apartment had some awkwardly sized rooms and outdated functions such as a small formal dining room and galley kitchen,” Tornheim said. “So I proposed doing a design that not only solved the walk-in closet but also took into account an updated design of the entire apartment. That proposal went over well; the design showed that the apartment had real potential.”

Tornheim said while things worked out this time around, he’d prefer painting on a blank canvas.

“I think that working with an existing space is more challenging than an entirely new one,” he said. “In this project I had to keep the existing bathroom locations and work around or with the existing building structure. Initially I felt that column locations, such as the one in the kitchen, would be a major design headache. But I used those problems to break out of the norm of design and take some risks, which ultimately proved to work out in the end.”

It’s that risk-taking that drew Modern Home Tours to Chicago in the first place.

Matt Swinney, the founder of Modern Home Tours, said the Windy City was a natural choice to hold a tour because of its rich architectural tradition.

“With modern, you sort of know it when you see it,” Swinney said. “Modernism--the original fathers of modern architecture--what they were really going for was, a lot of people view it as kind of cold and minimalistic, what they meant was they just wanted everything to be simple.”

And contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t as difficult as one might think to convince people to let complete strangers into their homes for the purpose of oohing and aahing.

“Generally speaking, people are proud,” he said. “They’ve spent a lot of time, they’ve spent a lot of money. They’ve gotten to know their architects and their builder really, really well. They kind of want to show it off. It’s their pride of ownership.”

Swinney said as nesting habits have changed, so have people’s preferences in their living spaces.

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