Text description provided by the architects. In Chicago’s East Village, on a lot next to a south-facing alley, the Cut Triplex townhouse balances privacy and openness, maximizing the narrow but deep property to carve out a light-filled 5,300 square foot residence.
The design of the house centers around different qualities of light. The clients, a young family of four, wanted to take advantage of the open space of the alleyway while simultaneously retaining a sense of privacy. Behind the monolithic black manganese brick facade lies an inviting and light interior. From the front of the house, which is entered from a poured concrete stoop, an open strip of glass travels up to the second floor, wrapping around its 60-foot long south facade, and to the back where it flows down into the backyard terrace. This long ribbon of natural light is framed by a projecting fin of richlite, a highly durable and versatile eco-friendly paper-based fiber composite, that extends equally to the exterior and interior of the house to emphasize the insertion and provide shading.
Upon entering the townhouse, the space opens upwards with light wells along the front and back. Reaching from the first to the second floor, these double-height openings bring light to each end of the residence and give a sense of weightlessness to the house. On the third floor, which holds the family’s four bedrooms, window sizes and their positioning vary, giving each room a unique quality of light.
The first floor of the house consists of rooms for entertaining—a piano room in front, which leads past a central stairwell and an office space to a cozy living room at the back of the house. This family room is anchored by black built-in bookshelves and a fireplace, and is illuminated by a large wall of windows and sliding glass doors that lead to the backyard.
From the living room, a back stair offers an express route to a large open kitchen on the second floor. The heart of the house, the kitchen is spacious enough for entertaining and flanked by a formal dining area at the front of the house and an informal family table in the back. With southern light streaming in through the long window, artificial light is rarely needed during the day.
The central stairwell, painted Yves Klein blue upon request by the client, runs as a spine through the entire height of the house, connecting the basement to the full rooftop terrace. A second pop of color in the otherwise neutral palette of the house comes in the children’s bathroom, which is livened up by a wall of whimsical green tiles.
Along the alley, the side facade was kept largely solid, extending past the house as a wall in the backyard and connecting to the two-car garage. The strong appearance of the facade is matched by the structure of the house, which was appointed with an extremely durable mat foundation for Chicago’s soft lakebed soil, and 18-inch-thick walls with multiple layers of insulation and waterproofing.
For the clients, who had been on an extensive search for the perfect home in Chicago for several years, the option of designing and building a new house from the ground up offered many opportunities. Throughout the house, custom details were of a higher quality and lower in cost than in any home available on the market. The kitchen features black granite slab with a leather finish, and Montauk black slate with gauge finish was selected for the first floor entrance areas and surrounding the wood burning fireplace in the living room. Red oak was used for all flooring, and the basement as well as the front and rear exterior terraces features a hydronic heated floor surface.
The Cut Triplex townhouse is a continuation of the design ideas explored in the Carved Duplex rooftop addition in New York City, completed by SPACECUTTER in 2011. The renovation and addition to the over 100-year old tenement building is carved away from the interior in various forms. A similar process of subtraction is visible in the three-sided cutaway window in the Cut Triplex townhouse.