Brad Lynch tears down a Chicago bungalow and rebuilds for his most demanding clients, his own family
Nancy Ganiard Smith -- Interior Design, 7/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Tidy wood-framed bungalows and brick three-flats line a sleepy residential street on Chicago's North Side. Stirring things up, the new kid on the block is a house boasting a startlingly open, geometric facade constructed from traditional materials, combined in a decidedly untraditional way. Imagine a Piet Mondrian painting brought to life, with glass, brick, aluminum, and zinc replacing swaths of white, red, yellow, and blue. Live action animates the grid, as enormous windows frame family life. Brininstool + Lynch partner Brad Lynch, who designed the house for himself, his producer-director wife, Karen, and their two teenage children, regards its openness to the street as a contemporary version of the front porch. When the Lynches feel less social, the flip of a switch lowers a charcoal-gray fiberglass-vinyl blind. "When it's closed, you almost don't realize the house is here," Lynch says. "When it's open, every car screeches to a halt and backs up."
For all the radical posturing, this long box of a building conforms neatly to its narrow city lot. Indeed, the house projects a split personality overall—by turns self-effacing and flamboyant. Most of the three-story, 4,200-square-foot volume is sheathed in elegant Norman brick, a contextual nod to mid-century neighbors, and the top level, where family bedrooms are, has windows on only two sides. Completely windowless is one 63-foot-long sidewall. Lynch mixed up its brick composition by introducing a section of contrasting zinc cladding as well as a rectangular aluminum-wrapped canopy, which breaks out from the center of the plane to announce the house's main entrance. Meanwhile, with massive sheets of glass in the front and rear, the lower two levels take on a thrilling transparency, revealing an open plan.
Lynch views the big windows as his sole grand gesture—it took quite an engineering feat and an industrial crane to install glass panels weighing a total of over 2,000 pounds. "In many respects, the house is actually very understated," he says. "The main things are family and entertaining and being comfortable in the city." The neighborhood is not new to the Lynches. They lived for years on the same site, in a classic Chicago bungalow, before taking the plunge to tear down and start fresh. Although Lynch toyed with different renovation ideas, including keeping the bungalow's face while blowing out the inside, a milestone birthday sparked a seize-the-moment, do-it-right attitude.
Graceful restraint and an inspired use of light always characterize the work of Brininstool + Lynch. Similar deftness registers in Lynch's own house, with its daring yet supremely logical flow. On each level, oak cabinetry separates the main space from a floating staircase of heroic length. The oak volumes take on a sculptural presence while housing bookcases and, on the lowest level, a powder room. Still, he concedes, the design won't ever be fully resolved. "That's why this house is so simple," he says. "It should be as neutral as possible through the years."
In the stylishly spare living area on the middle level, furniture by Harry Bertoia, Florence Knoll, and Piero Lissoni shares space with a very Miesian, custom daybed and sofa. The nearby kitchen's 20-foot-long stainless-steel island functions as prep surface and dining table, paired with eight Bertoia stools—keeping both socializing and serious cooking in mind. (Lynch has been dubbed "Chicago's best nonprofessional chef" by no lesser authority than Interior Design Hall of Fame member Stanley Tigerman.) From here, an outdoor stairway descends to a courtyard. There's also direct courtyard access from the den tucked in the rear on the lowest level, which is partly below-grade.
At the main entry, a poetic 1983 photograph of a Mexican woman, removing her cloak, sets the quiet tone that permeates the house. Lynch and his wife, longtime art collectors, are especially attracted to photography, and they possess a curator's touch when it comes to meaningful, engaging placement as opposed to static display: Berenice Abbott's black-and-white image of a chaotic New York newsstand, for example, hangs at the end of a bookcase. The Lynches originally made the decision to hang art only on interior walls. "This is the moment," he says, gesturing to a long stretch of virgin white that accentuates the open plan. His vision remains steadfast, despite the urgings of gallery-director friends who often arrive bearing big ideas—before adjourning to the kitchen for a dinner of scallops with kale, pancetta, and asparagus.