Over the last few months, I have attempted to balance preservation and transformation at 1304 N. Ritchie Ct. One of the biggest changes has occurred at the rear bay that cantilevers off the second floor of the house. When our work began, it was a sad, lopsided affair covered in sheet metal with tiny wooden windows. Time had taken its toll on this extension of the home. It leaned heavily away from the main structure, and its floor slanted. On top of everything, it lacked the horse hair that helped to insulate the rest of the house, and so it provided passage for warm air to escape and brisk Chicago winds to enter.
Initially, without access to the original house plans, it was unclear whether the bay was original to the house or a later addition, an important fact that would determine what changes Chicago Landmarks would allow. At first, Chicago Landmarks contended that the bay was most likely original to the house, and therefore could not be altered in any way. However, once our work commenced and the studs were exposed, we could confirm that it was an addition.
The key piece of evidence to prove our case was the bay’s mill sawn studs that differed dramatically from the rough-hewn 2x4s that composed the rest of the house. When the home was originally constructed, and before mechanization took hold of the construction process, 2x4s were cut by hand, which caused the boards to be uneven across their length. These uneven boards provided structure to the entire home, save for the bay. Alas, the studs supporting the bay were cut by an electric saw. As it was clear that the bay was not an original feature to the house, it was free to be redesigned.
The first step in the alteration of the bay was to address its unfortunate lean by supporting the cantilever with a new LVL beam. Next, we removed those original, tiny wooden windows and lowered the window sills to the floor. Natural light now floods the adjacent room--converted into a master sitting room--making the space much more inviting.
To determine the final aesthetic of the exterior, we took a survey of other rear bays in the Gold Coast neighborhood. We discovered that most are clad in either metal or wood, boast a decorative cornice, and sport a series of narrow floor-to-ceiling windows. Relying on these examples as precedent, we designed a bay that we believe will comfortably fit into the neighborhood. It is clad in black metal, and enjoys a robust cornice, traditional base molding, and a series of narrow windows.
I am proud of our work on the back bay. For me, this particular stage in the reconstruction project represents our work on the house as a whole. An attempt to preserve the historic, while both meeting the needs of a modern family, and complimenting the neighborhood. Ultimately, we have tried to blend that which was contemporaneous with 1304 N. Ritchie’s construction with contemporary practical needs and aesthetic standards.
Below are before and after pictures of the bay, as well as some of the precedents found in the neighborhood.