Maurice's Chicago Timber Loft Office

Workspace Tour

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Name: Maurice LaBonte
Location: Lakeview, Chicago
Size: 200 square feet

Maurice recently shared his loft with us (that old Chicago electric substation), and now we get a bright and lively glimpse into his home away from home, the office. This office and tutoring space exudes the best elements of one's home office, yet gives Maurice the distance he needs to work effectively. My instant impression in three words: comfort, fun, function.

As an educational consultant and academic tutor, Maurice (Mo) has been leasing in this building for the last five years (in this particular space for two), and loves spending time there. We love his enthusiasm and passion for his surroundings, the histories and stories behind his possessions, and his commitment to his life's work with students. Here's what Mo has to say:

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Like my home, style preferences in my office are a mix of aesthetics that reflect my love of mid-century design, contemporary furnishings and eclectic accessories. After scouting several loft office building locations, I chose this office because it was located in one of the few remaining timber loft buildings in Chicago. I work seven days a week for nine months, and I wanted the expansive feeling of a loft in an old building that would afford me breathing room. I also wanted an historical connection to Chicago and architecture, and I was pleased to learn this building had protected, landmark status.

The offices tend to be rather diminutive: earmarked for sole business owners, including therapists, doctors, attorneys and a myriad of other individual endeavors. Three's a charm, and when I moved for the third time in five years into my existing office, I hit pay dirt! I had been waiting for a corner office, and as luck would have it, the northeast corner of the second floor fell into my lap two years ago. It's perfection for me. The sunlight streams in through the capacious windows and there's plenty of energy for all the intellectual curiosity that occurs. It's always a lively discussion, and that was my objective in designing the space.

The marriage of old and new is the backbone of my design philosophy. The layers of the building were already peeled back exposing what is inherent to the building, and I just incorporated that into my final design. When I saw the exposed brick and the rough-hewn ceiling timbers, I immediately factored that into the overall design scheme I envisioned. I salvaged what I could from my collection of vintage and mid-century possessions, and I enjoyed the process of how opposites attract. It's the contrast that makes it all work so beautifully. The tension created between the polished furnishings and the primitive structural elements creates a sophisticated and simple conversation. The building itself created possibility, and the design evolved from there.

Inspiration: Function. Function. Function. An office has to work.

Favorite Element: I have two favorite elements: the triptych of windows on the east wall and the north wall's rudimentary, floor to ceiling bookcase.

Biggest Challenge: Additional seating and adequate filing storage.

What Friends Say: Those who have visited feel as if they are in my home. They are content.

Biggest Embarrassment: There are many. I make a lot of design mistakes. I live with them for a time, then re-tool, readjust and attempt to make better choices the second and third time around! I am always experimenting, and that is the beauty of living and working with design.

Proudest DIY: The bookcase - it was a labor of love. Fortunately, I had a contractor friend help out and don't know how I lived without it for years!

Biggest Indulgence: Leasing this office! Renting a business space is an absolute indulgence, and for me, it's a personal indulgence and a necessary professional requirement. I enjoy leaving the house to go to work - the separation of my personal and professional space is a joy. It makes me happy.

Best Advice: It has to work for you - carve out areas of task and relaxation - and make it work for your needs. Create a space that lures you in every day. A place that you feel is calm and quietly lets you in while making you at home.

Dream Source: Everything here has its own unique story. The primitive drama of the space, my needs and the location drive the design.

RESOURCES:

Hardware: I use a Mac Book Pro, and my building provides wireless service. My students also bring in laptops and have access to the Internet. Likewise, my students' parents can hang in the lobby or the conference room and work their blackberries, laptops and iPads to their hearts' content. It's a great set-up!

Office furniture: (Lots of straight lines, some angles for diversion...)
• contemporary black glass work table with white enamel legs
• vintage Eames office fabric shell chair
• MOMA's Porter tray table
• vintage black leather and chrome side chair
• high gloss, crisp white credenza topped with gray glass and a customized built-in refrigerator

Accessories:
• 1960s smoke black glass and chrome vintage lamp
• Jonathan Adler ceramics
• local art
• Brazilian cowhide rug
• white board
• Target charcoal gray bulletin boards

Lighting: Make sure you have the light you need. I have overhead office lighting on a motion detector, but I also use ambient and task lighting.

Organizing Tools/Accessories: You have to be on top of things. Whatever you need to get organized and running efficiently and effectively - do it. Enjoy yourself along the way.

That's Mo, below, in his modeling days!

Thanks, Maurice!

Images: Heather Blaha