AIA Chicago Award-Winning Modern Getaway in the Illinois River Valley
9203 N 675th Ave (aka 9203 County Rd 675 N), Hennepin
A two-hour circle. That was what Diane and Thomas drew out from the middle of Chicago in 2003. “We love the city, but sometimes you just want to get away,” says Diane in regard to their decision to build a weekend getaway. “So we got out a big map and drew a circle radiating out from downtown Chicago. We looked for property for about a year.”
A two-hour circle around Chicago covers a lot of ground, well into both Wisconsin and Indiana, and out past Rockford to the west. But ultimately, it was a piece of property in a small town in the Illinois River Valley area that grabbed their attention.
“We also wanted a large parcel. We started driving around looking for areas and picked the Illinois River Valley because of the many public lands for hiking, kayaking and biking,” says Thomas. “We were especially in love with nearby Hennepin-Hopper Lakes.”
Hennepin, IL sits about 30 minutes west of Starved Rock State Park, and sits on the east bank of the Illinois River. The property that Diane and Thomas purchased is a few minutes south of town.
“We knew we wanted a modern house,” continues Diane, “and we also wanted it to be easy to maintain, especially since we weren’t planning on being there full-time. We looked at a few prefab modern homes, but ultimately decided to have the house custom designed and built just for us and the lot.”
Thomas adds: “We met with a few different architecture firms, and really clicked with UrbanLab. As soon as we saw their live/work space, we knew they were our architects. The house we designed with them was 100% designed to suit the property.”
The property is around 21 acres that includes some protected / conservation area and is wild with all manner of flora and fauna. “We love the nature around the house,” says Diane. “There’s a creek behind the house if you go into the woods, and the area is rich with wildlife, including deer, wild turkey, quail and many other types of animals and birds.”
Hennepin has quite a few farms in and around town, and to assist in having their modern getaway fit in with the surroundings, the house was designed to complement the rural aesthetic. The exterior is corrugated aluminum, and the efficient use of space in the home allowed for the building to remain fairly compact and unobtrusive in its surroundings.
Divided into three main sections, plus outdoor spaces, the home features a large, front-to-back living room and dining room, with the kitchen & laundry / utilities off to one side. That side of the home also features the master suite, while the opposite side of the home features the “guest wing” with a studio and a guest bedroom plus a 2nd bathroom.
Many clever choices in finishes, materials and products make for a truly unique and easily-livable modern home. The living room / dining room is entirely clad in stained pine, with a very thoughtful design to how the wood planks are angled in relation to one another.
“The layout of the wood decking in the living room, dining room and the front and rear decks is based on the topographical survey of our property,” says Thomas. “It was a really nice touch that you’d never notice if you didn’t know about it, but it makes for a series of beautiful spaces that are inviting and comforting, with the light from the walls of glass at the front and back of the house accentuating the natural character of the wood.”
As day turns to night, custom-designed and fabricated light fixtures take over the task of bathing the wood in a soft, warm glow.
The doors into the master suite and guest wing are clad with the same pine. Combined with some very clever hardware that allows the sliding doors to close completely flush with the walls of the room, the result is quite spectacular, allowing for long, continuous surfaces when the doors are closed.
Going from concept to completion wasn’t simple, though. “It took us a year to find a builder in central Illinois who would take on our design,” says Diane. “We had to have the aluminum perforated, then corrugated in Chicago and drive it out.”
The perforations she refers to exist on the sliding screens outside the windows in the bedrooms and the studio. Made from the same corrugated aluminum as the exterior of the home, they’re perforated with a pattern of circles to allow for selective light or shading in those spaces, which also adds texture and enhances the modern aesthetic of the home, while still offering a peek of the surrounding nature even when closed.
“Every season in this home is great,” continues Diane. “I love fall when the grass is tall and the leaves are changing, and also winter when the snow is falling and we have a fire in the Fireorb.” The Fireorb is a wonderful focal point of the living room space, and is made by a small, Chicago-area company.
When asked about their favorite parts of the home, Thomas says “For me, it’ how the house frames and fits its environment. It’s snug and well-proportioned and laid out perfectly.”
“I also love how the guest wing is totally separate from the master wing,” adds Diane. “The kitchen is also well laid-out for people who like to cook.”
While cooking and good food are things that many Chicago residents are quite familiar with, Hennepin itself is probably more of a mystery. In reality, it’s a fairly easy drive from the city and has a lot to offer as a getaway destination. “Many Chicagoans don’t realize that the Illinois River Valley is so beautiful,” continues Diane. “With rolling hills, prairies, wetlands, and tons of wildlife. I love the natural beauty.”
Winner of two AIA Chicago awards, this beautiful, efficient modern home is now available for sale for the first time, giving a new owner the opportunity to enjoy the thoughtful design details in an environment that is truly peaceful and relaxing.
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