Glass and steel combine to create uninterrupted flow

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Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

High-end homes in River Forest and Oak Park often have historical pedigrees. Whether Prairie Style or Victorian or Arts and Crafts, the area is full of architectural wonders from the 20th century. A home currently on the market in River Forest proves that you don't need historical provenance to be architecturally significant.

Designed by Carlos Concepcion in 2005, the home relies on steel beams instead of wooden moldings for its character and features radiantly heated floors rather than antique fireplaces. With walls of windows and a wide-open floor plan, the home provides a modern backdrop for family life.

Current owner Scott Neeley says that the original home on the lot when he bought the property on Franklin Street in 2005 was a mishmash of styles. The lot itself was the selling point.

"The previous owner had combined a small, 45-foot lot with the next lot over. The combined lot was too small for two property PIN numbers, so it remained one lot that is approximately 90-feet wide," he explains. "That owner extended the home, turning a Cape Cod into a quasi-Mission Style home. There was no architectural value, but it was a great property."

Neeley recalls the old home's warren-like floor plan with tiny rooms that were difficult to access. He brought in Concepcion, who, at that time, lived a few blocks away, to change everything.

"Carlos is an extremely creative visionary type. His plan was to open up the floor plan and create an indoor outdoor flow," says Neeley. "The home is essentially all new construction, although we did keep part of the original foundation and a few original walls."

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Throughout the home, construction materials reflect the modernist sensibilities of Neeley and Concepcion. The house is entirely framed in steel, held together with four-inch steel columns. Neeley says the final tab for all of the steel used in the construction was over $100,000. A free-standing outside wall provides structure to the outdoor vista and is connected by an enormous steel beam to a balcony of a second story window.

A window wall on the back of the home's living area connects the interior to the yard during all seasons. Every room boasts wide windows. Neeley notes that the glass is one inch thick and provides good insulation.

"This house is extremely tolerable even in winter," he says. "When you're in this house during a Chicago windstorm it doesn't move or squeak."

Neeley added art-like elements to the home as well, combining form and function. A steel and glass staircase rising from the two-story living area to the second floor looks like a piece of sculpture.

"I found this guy who is an incredible artisan to build the staircase. The steel is all hand-welded. I love it. It's the central piece of the house now," says Neeley.

In creating the home, a key element for Neeley and his family was an open living plan. "Because I cook a lot, having the kitchen in the living space was important to me."

The kitchen boasts professional appliances, including a Viking refrigerator and double ovens. A large island that seats seven allows for casual meals or easy entertaining.

The open kitchen is flanked by living and dining spaces, all of which face a wall of windows looking out onto the expansive backyard. The same porcelain tile that is used in these rooms is used in the outdoor patio, giving the two spaces a sense of uninterrupted flow.

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A first floor master bedroom suite includes an Italian-designed sliding glass doors that can be locked in an open position, allowing in fresh air, while still providing safety. The master bath's skylight provides natural light while maintaining privacy, and a spacious, walk-in closet rounds out the space.

Also on the first floor, a formal living room with a fireplace looks out onto the front yard.

On the second floor, five additional bedrooms and two full bathrooms offer plenty of space for a family to spread out. A finished basement with hardwood floors shows off the lifespan of the property. Neeley points out that the room that was under the original Cape Cod design, the addition of the previous owner, as well as his own expansion of the foundation.

"One of the nice parts of this space is the unfinished mechanical room," he says. "It gives you access to all the home's mechanicals, including water and electrical lines, so if you ever need to make any changes you don't have to destroy the finished rooms in the basement."

Neeley says he's ready to part with the home. Julie Downey, of Gagliardo Realty, is listing the six-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath home for $1.595 million. She says a home of this style has attracted a lot of attention.

"It's been different from any of my listings. I get calls from all over the country about it. It's very special for this area."

Neeley concurs. "There are very few contemporary homes in this area, and what there is out there doesn't come close to having this kind of space."

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