In addition to organizing last weekend’s South Loop Neighbors Loft Walk, South Loop Neighbors Chair Helen Kaplow opened her Donohue Building home to visitors during the event. Having owned a home just above Hackney’s, a neighborhood bar and restaurant, for eight years, she has experienced both the pros and cons of loft living.
The initial draw for Helen was the neighborhood. South Loop, she says, is like a village: It’s common to run into neighbors at the local restaurants and book stores in Printers Row. And despite its proximity to the Loop, the city’s expressways, Grant Park, and Lake Michigan, it isn’t a big draw for tourists and remains a private area even in the summer and on weekends.
Helen’s home has exposed, unpainted concrete and large beams in her main living space. Her taste in Eastern furniture and art are apparent as you take in her residence at a glance. Helen says she values the freedom for creativity that the open floor plan of a loft offers it’s owner. “You can define your space,” she says, leaning forward out of the sunlight pouring in through her tall south- and west-facing windows, which, she confesses, she hardly ever covers with blinds, even at night.
There are drawbacks to living in a building that was not conceived as a residence, not the least of which is the lack of parking. While there once was a loading zone outside the Donohue, it has since been removed, leaving only paid parking and bus stops. Leaving a car for 30 seconds will earn its owner a ticket, she laments. That, combined with the one of the oldest working elevators in the city (complete with manually operated doors), can make bringing in groceries or other awkward items a real challenge.
Helen enjoys the concrete floors and ceiling of the Donohue’s annex, built in 1913, while the lofts in the main building, built in 1883, have wood floors that provide virtually no insulation of “sound or smell.” Residents in both parts of the building have to deal with constant “pipe drama,” she says.
“It’s rugged. You have to want it, the aesthetic – give up some modern conveniences,” she says. “But there’s history here, and the architecture…a person can take advantage of the opportunity the space provides.”
You can see the differences in Helen’s loft and a neighboring unit in the pictures below.