This Couple’s 130-Year-Old Chicago Condo Is a Mix of Old Architecture and Modern Additions

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A living room with a white sectional couch and two orange chairs
This is the great room on the main floor. The ceilings are 15-feet tall and, because the living, dining, and kitchen areas are all connected, it's ideal for entertaining. We love the original maple floors that have been colored and patinated from 130 years of usage.

Name: Bridget Johnson and partner Sean
Location: West Town — Chicago, Illinois
Type of home: Condo
Size: 2750 square feet
Years lived in: 6 years, owned

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: This space is home to myself, my partner Sean and, in a few months, our new baby boy. The building in which our home is located was built in 1889. All of the units were converted to condos in 1989 and have post-modern finishes that reflect that time period. Our space has had many functions in its long history: a lamp factory, a department store, a hardware wholesaler, a creative agency, and a sushi chef’s home kitchen.

This wall is our view from bed in the primary bedroom. We replaced this room’s former navy blue carpeting with maple engineered hardwood. When we bought it, our unit was connected to the unit above us via a staircase located to the right of this window. We converted the staircase into a walk-in closet.

Our unit consists of three floors. The main floor houses the living and dining rooms, the kitchen and a guest bedroom, which will soon turn into a nursery. On the top floor is the den and primary suite. On the lower level is an office and entertainment space, including a wet bar, and the laundry room and storage rooms.

We’ve been renovating it, space by space, since 2016. The project is ever-evolving as our needs change and creativity strikes.

You enter our space from a well-traveled intersection on a busy street so people are surprised when they walk through the door. The calm interior is an unexpected juxtaposition to the busy exterior.

This space, the dropzone as we call it, used to hold a built-in formica coffee bar that was added when our unit was a creative agency’s office. To the left there is an entry to the outside so we transformed the area into a zone to shed bags, coats, and shoes. We store picnic supplies in the lower drawers.

We’re a multiracial household with a love for travel. Our home is a reflection of our experiences and worldview. Every piece in our home means something to us. I am a black woman of Caribbean American heritage. My Rastafarian dad is a gifted artist and was always creating when I was a kid. My stepfather is an inspired wood worker. He made our dining room table, bathroom vanities, and the basement bar. Sean’s father is a former construction carpenter and general contractor specializing in restoration and adaptive reuse. We take inspiration from them all.

This is a view of our basement bar, built by my stepfather. Just beyond the brick wall is the L train. This is one corner of 1,000 square feet of basement that we refinished to include an office, entertainment space with a projector, laundry room, and two storage rooms. When we moved in, the beautiful and structural wood beams were coated in decades of layers of paint, so we sanded them down to their original tone to show off the beauty of the structural details.

I always have a project. I dabble in ceramics and woodwork often in the form of picture frames, plant stands, concrete molds, and block print. My work is scattered throughout our home. My partner, Sean, is a skilled home cook. The kitchen is his space to create. He’s been traveling internationally since adolescence and it shows in his cooking.

My partner and I are both from the Midwest so have an appreciation for Midwestern design influences: Brick & Timber, Modernism, Prairie Style. The region has a distinct architectural impact that we are proud of and incorporate in our home.

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: Collected, evolving, modern

The kitchen used to have fluorescent lights, Formica countertops, and a wall separating it from the living room area. We took down the wall and put in six slabs of black quartz.

What is your favorite room and why? The great room on the main floor. The ceilings are 15-feet tall and, because the living, dining, and kitchen areas are all connected, it’s ideal for entertaining.

This space has seen countless parties. From my best friend’s birthday rager (there was a DJ stationed in the den overlooking the living room and line at the door!) to Friendsgiving to baby showers. Our friends and family know they are always welcome. They also know I live for a tablescape. Elaborate dinner parties are a staple in our home. Sean cooks; I design and host.

We do a lot of living in our den. It's where we get cozy – watch films, read books, play video games. The original tin ceiling is our favorite feature.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? We were recently in Prague and brought home a mug from a shop owned by a friend of a friend. The shop is called Artiseme. We like to display ceramics and spices we find while traveling in the kitchen open shelving.

This bathroom was our most recent and most challenging renovation. We couldn’t expand the size of the room so we were tasked with fitting the utility of a proper primary bathroom into 5 x 5 ½ square feet.

Any advice for creating a home you love? Go slow. Look for pieces when you travel. There is a thrift store or antique shop in every town. On road trips we bring home bigger pieces like wall art and textiles — landscape paintings are our favorite treasure to hunt. On plane trips, we look for ceramics or serving utensils — a bowl, mug, or serving spoon are easy to pack in a carry-on. Just stuff a sock in it or wrap it in a shirt.

Host the people you love in your home. Having company is a way to show loved ones that you care about them without words. It’s not about creating perfection — it’s about creating memories.

This submission’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity. 
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