The experts choose Chicago’s best new homes for 2001
Deciding on this year’s New Homes awards was both extremely difficult and unusually easy. The category of new highrises, for example, includes more than 20 new luxury towers spread from the South Loop to the Near North Side, all with long lists of amenities and features to recommend them. Last year at this time, only half as many highrises were on the market.
At the very high end are buildings like 840 N. Lake Shore, by LR Development, where prices start at $1.4 million and reach to around $9 million. The 77-unit boutique allows buyers to fully customize their space and offers a prime Streeterville location with stunning views from the edge of a park.
Do these features make 840 N. Lake Shore the best new highrise in the city? They probably do for some buyers, but not for the majority, who can’t afford a parking spot in the building. In choosing the best new highrise our editorial staff tried to balance things like amenities, views and location with pricing and investment value. Our selection, 1111 S. Wabash is comparatively in an emerging location, but with a strong range of amenities in a solid building – one buyers can get into for under $200,000.
Other categories were simple because of a lack of product. New lofts, which flooded the market for several years in the late ’90s, eclipsing all other types of construction, have slowed to a trickle. Few major loft conversions are underway, and they increasingly tend to be in unwieldy buildings or located in peripheral locations.
Single-family houses are in even shorter supply. Apart from small scattered development, “onesies and twosies” as builders say, there are virtually no developments of unattached housing with 10 or more units. A quick look at pricing explains this trend. The low end in new single-families is around half a million dollars, and prices closer to $1 million are more common. Given the high costs of labor and land, builders don’t think it’s worth their while to build a more affordable single-family house – and most don’t think single-families are worthwhile at any price.
In terms of location, our selections are skewed toward the city center, which reflects building patterns in the city. The Loop and its surrounding neighborhoods have become hot, with concentric rings of development expanding from downtown. Several of our selections for the best new homes of 2001 are located in the West Loop and several others in the South Loop. These areas promise continued expansion, though perhaps at a slower rate in the coming years, and above-average appreciation for homeowners.
In making our selections, the editorial staff considered everything from location and floor plans to amenities, architecture and pricing, imagining that we were buyers of new construction. We chose projects that seemed to score well in every category and so represented the best available housing. Our choices are admittedly subjective, but we think that the following projects at least would be good starting points for anyone in the market for a new home.
Chicago’s best new mid-rise
New mid-rises have become interchangeable in the city during the last 10 years and nowhere more so than in the West Loop. Once a bastion of loft conversions, the neighborhood is now host to countless nondescript red brick mid-rises.
The Metro, 1200 W. Monroe, may not be cutting edge – in fact, its design is retro – but it is different and creative and for this we are thankful. The 136-unit art nouveau condo building by Oculus Development borrows its inspiration from the Metro, the nickname of Paris’s famous Metropolitan Subway System. The condo development’s dramatic curved corner entrance will have a metal and glass canopy with a design inspired by the French transit system. The stylized “M” planned as the building’s insignia also is patterned after the ones on the Metro in Paris.
The architecture firm of Larson & Darby added other art nouveau touches, including glass entryway columns, a two-story glass atrium, recessed 40-foot-long terraces or balconies and curvilinear floor plans. A sort of scalloped roofline provides architectural interest from the ground and adds character to the penthouse interiors.
Units, which have one to three bedrooms and one or two baths, are priced from the $180s to more than $500,000. Condo features include angled entrances, nine-foot ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, gas fireplaces, hardwood floors, Frigidaire appliances and balconies.
Chicago’s best new loft
A few years ago, Chicago was overrun with loft developments, but the supply has run short and developers have increasingly turned to second-rate buildings to convert. That’s why Loftominium World, American Invsco’s offering of seven loft buildings totaling 311 units, presents a rare opportunity for buyers.
The buildings, six in the West Loop and one in the South Loop, were rented as high-end apartments until Invsco bought the portfolio. The lofts are not freshly converted, so mechanicals and appliances are not brand new, but they were rehabbed fairly recently. Most important, they were rehabbed at a time when “hard lofts,” with exposed brick and beams, hardwood floors and open spaces, were still the standard.
No two of the units at Loftominium World are alike; these lofts are the antithesis of cookie cutter. Features in most include fireplaces, hardwood floors, exposed brick, track lighting, high ceilings, built-in dishwashers, Euro-style kitchens, large windows, central air conditioning and washer / dryer hookups. One building has a giant brick arch that resembles a Roman ruin and another has a colorful lobby featuring curved glass block. Such whimsical touches are everywhere.
Prices at Loftominium World start at $229,500, and sales for all seven buildings are handled from the main sales center, at Morgan Town Lofts, 22 N. Morgan. The Loftominium World buildings are: Heartbreak Lofts, 17 N. Loomis; Hale Lofts, 14 N. Peoria; Warehouse Lofts, 312 N. May; Union Park Lofts, 1327 W. Washington; 11th Street Lofts, 1020 S. Wabash; Morgan Town Lofts, 22 N. Morgan; and Acorn Lofts, 1017 W. Washington.
Chicago’s best new townhouse
Given the sheer number of townhouses built in Chicago during the last three decades, the homogeneity and lack of innovation among such projects is startling. Aberdeen Terrace, a 29-unit project at 18 S. Aberdeen, not only has a distinctive modern aesthetic, it also breaks the mold of the standard (useless) townhouse courtyard.
The unusual design by Landon Bone Architects will allow buyers to make use of space most townhouse projects surrender to an ugly, utilitarian driveway. Visitors will access units through the raised terrace level, entering through a gate and up a set of stairs on the end of the courtyard. The homes are influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School, with clean lines, roof overhangs and large windows.
The units by Dubin Residential have two or three bedrooms plus dens and family rooms, two-car garages and three baths. At press time, prices started in the $470s.
Aberdeen Terrace will be welcome in the West Loop, where only a few townhouse developments have entered the market, most with faux traditional designs. Instead of looking down the equivalent of an alley as they pass the site, pedestrians will be drawn to the landscaped mezzanine level, just above. And loft and condo owners who like the West Loop will be able to take advantage of a project that offers more space and privacy than most in the neighborhood.
1111 S. Wabash
Chicago’s best new highrise
It will not be hard to find a highrise more luxurious than 1111 S. Wabash, or one with better views, amenities or pricing. But in a crowded market, this 34-story tower by the Gammonley Group strikes an impressive balance in each of these categories.
Architects Perkins, Pryde, Kennedy & Steevensz and Fujikawa Johnson & Associates designed 28 different floor plans for the 247-unit building. Some of the condos have more than 250 square feet of outdoor space, others are duplexed and some corner units have impressive views and lighting as well as creative layouts.
The L-shaped building is designed to have six corner units per floor, maximizing light and views of both the lake and city. Units do not start until the sixth floor, so even the least expensive condos have decent views.
The building will include a 24-hour doorman, a rooftop pool, a party room, a fitness center, indoor parking, a spa / wellness center, a salon, a dry cleaner, a valet and a business center / conference room.
The South Loop is still an emerging location for highrises, but that means that 1111 S. Wabash can offer prices that are in many cases half of what they would be in the Gold Coast. Convertibles in the highrise start in the $190s. One-bedrooms with dens start in the $220s, and two-bedrooms with dens and 2.5 baths are priced from the $290s. At the high end, custom three-bedroom 3.5-bath penthouses with more than 3,100 square feet and private terraces range up to $1.8 million.
River CityPrivate Residences
Chicago’s best new condo conversion
The market for condominium conversions is not what it used to be in Chicago, partly because so many already have been done, and partly because the rental market is now so tight. River City, 800 S. Wells, tops the short list of current conversions as a one-of-a-kind property.
Anyone who has seen the distinctive building from the banks of the Chicago River will remember the serpentine concrete facades of its two parallel towers. The futuristic-looking building was designed by famed Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg, who loved curvilinear design, fish-eye windows and voluptuous buildings. His vision is notable in Marina City’s corncob towers and in the CHA’s Hilliard Homes, but it’s perhaps most pronounced in River City, which makes Marilyn Monroe look like a beanpole.
Goldberg also loved self-sufficiency, and buyers at River City can live comfortably in the complex without ever leaving. The development includes a full-service grocery store, party rooms, a dry cleaner, a valet, a 24-hour doorman, indoor parking, a Bally’s Sports Club, a riverwalk, a private one-acre park and even 64 boat slips. A special water-churning system keeps the river surface from freezing in the private marina, so boats can be kept in slips year round.
River Road, a skylighted interior “street” with a 10-story atrium, winds between the parallel buildings. The 448 units at River City are priced from the $160s to the low $400s.
Chicago’s best new single-family
The new single-family house has become an endangered species in Chicago. The high cost of land and labor and the developer’s imperative to fit as many units as possible on sparse lots have made townhouses and condo buildings much more common. Bucktown 1800 bucks the trend by offering fully loaded single-families from the $530s to the $540s.
The units offer all the space and privacy of detached housing and then some. C A Development has built coach houses, once a staple in Chicago construction, above the two-car garages. These 458-square-foot rooms, which include half baths, are envisioned as the ideal studio or office space – or as temporary quarters for returning college graduates taking their time on the job search.
The houses have four bedrooms, 3.5 baths, English basements of about 1,000 square feet, and about 2,700 square feet of living space. Features include master bedroom suites with cathedral ceilings and marble vanities, two fireplaces, decks or balconies, hardwood floors, private yards and granite counters.
If this all sounds like a lot for half a million in Bucktown, that’s because the houses are in Humboldt Park. The location, at 1821 N. Talman, is a little west of Western, the dividing line between Bucktown and Humboldt Park. But there is a significant amount of building in this pocket, dubbed “West Bucktown” by builders, and it’s less than a mile from the heart of Bucktown.