Maurice & Todd's Old Chicago Electric Substation Loft

Maurice & Todd's Old Chicago Electric Substation Loft

Heather Blaha
May 1, 2012

Name: Maurice La Bonte and Todd Brittain
Location: Edgewater — Chicago, Illinois
Size: 2,000 square feet
Years lived in: 5 — owned

This intriguing two bedroom, two floor, 2.5-bath soft loft was created in a 100-year-old Commonwealth Edison Electric Substation Building. Entering the building's lobby (and then Maurice and Todd's place), you'll find old electrical panels salvaged for visual interest and historical context, old wood and concrete beams, gorgeous glazed brick, and iron railings. The ways that Maurice and Todd combine these elements with their love of modern design speak to their sense of adventure, and their passion for loving where you live and playing with ideas.

Despite the train tracks a mere few feet to the south of their home, this educational consultant (Maurice) and law librarian (Todd) fell in love with the space, including the regular rumble of the El. Alongside those elevated tracks is an incredible outdoor courtyard. It has been a labor of love for Maurice, and although things weren't growing quite yet when I visited, I can imagine beautiful city nights in this large yet cozy garden. Better weather and more photos to come...

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Our style is eclectic yet grounded in mid-century aesthetics. We were drawn to this building and our particular unit because of its history and natural beauty. We felt the developer exposed rather than concealed the true beauty and life of this architectural gem, and that pleased us greatly. The internal framework of the building was reworked to accommodate its reuse, but the developer left the external skin and frame on show, revealing with self-effacement its true character. We were immediately drawn to the site, and with the developer's agreement to sell us the courtyard — it was a done deal. The irony of our space is that all the stripping down of the building actually ennobles rather than impoverishes the design. The theme of our simplistic design seems to be a commentary on the preciousness, over-sleekness, and self-importance that appears to be a recurring feature in interior design. For us that means mixing hi-brow and lo-brow, vintage and reproductions, Ikea and DWR. For instance, we love the juxtaposition of the sleek, contemporary sliding glass doors we had installed upstairs next to the dining room's humble farm stand table and hand-hewn bench. We only wanted a few works of art to dot the walls because we felt a little visual relaxation was good, and we did not want to overpower the brick. We'd like to think that we've employed a somewhat sensitive, near Miesian use of restraint in our design and choice of furnishings — of knowing precisely when and where to stop. We believe the strength of our design work is that our pieces appeal intellectually as much as they do aesthetically and emotionally.

Inspiration: Clean lines, functionality and simplicity.

Favorite Element: The interior walls are clad in three types of brick that complement rather than match our design: a beige buckskin brick, glazed and mottled red brick, and Old Chicago, unglazed red brick.

Biggest Challenge: Designing my garden. It's been a five-year labor of love and a great source of joy all year round.

What Friends Say: Our friends love our house and its welcoming atmosphere.

Biggest Embarrassment: When I painted the spare room brown and silver.

Proudest DIY: While I do a lot of work myself, I also farm quite a bit out. If you can, do so. My proudest DIY was lying down and tamping one ton of fine grey granite in the dog run adjacent to the courtyard. I had one ton of finely crushed granite dumped in a tarp in the alley by our back gate. We live on the corner of an eponymous Chicago alley, and we abut the elevated train tracks. I carried the granite bucket by bucket over the course of many weeks. I would do several hours or several buckets a day. This went on for the better part of a summer — dumping and tamping — it was hard, laborious work. Our outdoor property is odd shaped — and we have this long dog-run area between the 20 Foot CTA wall and the Substation wall, probably ½ block long. In the end, I covered a lot of territory, almost to the far end of our property line. That was two years ago, and it still looks great — it's clean and crisp and echoes the industrial nature of the building. At the far end, I planted a bamboo grove for privacy, and we are now the proud owners of fifty 8-foot bamboo shoots!

Biggest Indulgence: Miele dishwasher.

Best Advice: Have fun and make it about you!

Dream Source: Anywhere you can get an object with a story. Everything in our home has a story.

Resources of Note:


    • Several walls have graphic patterns painted by a local artist - upstairs bathroom west wall, living room wall, stairwell wall, downstairs spare bathroom. Colors on remaining walls are soothing off-whites with various shades of gray.


    • Mounted Eames Leg Splint
    • hand made bench from recycled old wood planks
    • Marimekko print, "Helsinki"
    • 1960s Pop Art Globe Chandelier


    • Flanking credenzas - one is a Nelson, the other a mid-century design reputed to be a custom piece from the Heinz Estate
    • DWR sofa, mid-century lounge chair reupholstered in teal Knoll boucle fabric
    • vintage Eames Lounge Chair
    • Nelson Clocks
    • Venini Glass
    • black and white photography


    • Wisconsin Farm Table
    • Vintage Red Bench
    • Cherner Chairs
    • Adler Pottery
    • Tolomeo Floor Lamp


    • Random pattern, porcelain tile horizontal backsplash in mottled hues of blue, brown and gray
    • Sliding Glass
    • stainless steel appliances
    • honed black Absolute Granite counters


    • Salvaged Vintage Steel Case Credenza
    • Nelson Lounge Chair
    • Saarinen Table
    • Peter and Marilyn Frank Hand-Blown Glass Lamp
    • Large Acrylic on Canvas Abstract Painting utilizing broad gray and blue planes in vertically aligned quadrants entitled Jay-Blue, from 1992 by Jim Bird.


    • Nelson Eye Clock


    • DWR Finnish Twilight Sleeper Sofa
    • Doron Lachisch's Cubitec Shelving
    • Nelson Sunflower Clock
    • Prouve Antony Chair
    • Thonet Library Table Desk
    • Adler Nelson Lamp

Thanks, Maurice and Todd!

Images: Heather Blaha

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