Restoring a historic gem in the Gap

Viewing the latest work in progress by craftsman developer Bill Lavicka is always a joy.

Lavicka, whose passion is restoring Chicago’s historic architectural gems to their original splendor, turns each showing into a history lesson, an architectural tour and an art exhibition, all wrapped in one. His latest project, the gut rehab of an 1880s Italianate beauty in the picturesque Near South enclave known as the Gap, is no exception.

“There were 14 flues on this house, and we’ve rebuilt all the chimneys,” Lavicka said, pointing skyward as he stood in the front yard recently at 3350 S. Calumet. “The roofscape is important, I think, and we always take care of the chimneys. There’s a lot of stonework here (in the Gap), so I’m trying to dress the house up.”

Not all of the chimneys will be functional, but the home’s five working fireplaces should be plenty for any 21st century resident. Lavicka is a stickler for period details such as the way this 19th century roof should look from the street, but he’s no slave to history.

Moving around back, he pointed out the large, gently curving brick bay he created to buy enough space for a thoroughly modern kitchen in house built at a time when kitchens were utilitarian and out of sight.

“I needed a little more room for the kitchen, and I always like to build curves in where I can; I tend to mirror the female form in building,” said Lavicka, whose company, Historic Boulevard Services, has breathed life into historic homes throughout Chicago. “I’ll cast the lintels out and use segmented plate glass that will walk the curve.”

Moving inside, he pointed out the way this kitchen will look from the inside and like that, we moved from history and architecture into art and whimsy. The dramatic semi-circular space will be accented with a custom tile floor that maps the solar system – a sun in the center and the planets orbiting in concentric circles. “You start with small tiles when you’re doing a radius like this and then the tiles can get bigger farther out,” Lavicka said.

Stars will be represented in the larger windows, and on the side of the house, a round stained glass window will feature “the woman in the moon.”

Not the man?

No. Lavicka, in keeping with his motif of the feminine form in building, feels strongly that a woman should personify that heavenly body.

How do you sum up a house with this many quaint and custom touches?

You can quote numbers: 4,000 square feet of space including a finished basement, 10 stained glass windows, three levels of living space, three bedrooms, two furnaces, five fireplaces, eight-foot windows, 10.5-foot ceilings…But impressive as they are, such lifeless statistics don’t do the home justice.

You can describe its custom touches: the semi-circular wine cellar beneath the kitchen where built-in terra cotta cylinders offer space for 400 bottles; the original sugar pine moldings Lavicka himself “dip stripped” to restore; the three half-radius stained glass windows that set off the master bath (sunrise and sunset on the ends, “naked people” in the middle); the custom tile shower surround depicting a lily pond that Lavicka spent 120 hours making; the built-in niches he created for sculpture and artwork…but it’s impossible to capture in words the charm these touches create.

In the end, nothing but a visit to 3350 S. Calumet will bring to life the beauty of this house and the impeccable work of Historic Boulevard Services.

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