Archive for the ‘chicago real estate’ Category

The Togo, designed by Michael Ducaroy for Ligne Roset, in 1973

Conversation pits have been traced back to the 1950’s, but no one really knows where they originated. They began to take shape in California, during the late 1960’s, using the conversation pit name. The most common form of pit was an actual sunken living room, with low cozy togetherness furniture. It’s a concept that never died but was silent for a number of years.

More Recently, several well-known furniture design firms, including Ligne Roset, have advertised their 60’s and 70’s living room designs. Many of which, bring back the conversation pit’s cozy vibe.

It’s a design concept that has proven to be rather versatile, because it works well in many types of interior and exterior environments. Outdoors, the design trend has brought the cozy togetherness to the garden.  The conversation pit finds itself once again in the limelight as a feature that can be retro or contemporary.

For more on conversation pits in the garden, visit Watercolour Gardens.

Here is a link to Houzz, with an impressive photo collection of conversation pits from many decades past.


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The first time I reached for a bottle of beer at a friend’s home in the traditional yet very stylish Cotswolds, I became obsessed with the fridge. They had an off-white masterpiece of high quality retro with all kinds of high polished chrome fittings. Whenever I happen to pay them a visit, my eyes always wander towards their kitchen to catch a glimpse. I admire the line of fridge designs as I would a 1956 Saab Sonett I sports car. Both are designed to please the aesthetic sensors in our brains while functioning as top notch machines. Form follows function but function doesn’t need to be ugly. The SMEG fridge is available in a multitude of colours and sizes. Most are on the smallish size in comparison to William Perry “The Fridge”, but who needs to store fifty boxes of frozen TV dinners? Fresh food is better for us anyhow. The retro chrome appliance also tends to travel from home to home just as a 52″ flat panel tv does. At least that’s what I hear.

SMEG makes a complete line of kitchen appliances to fit a stylish home of traditional or contemporary flavour. To buy SMEG Stateside, visit SMEG USA Inc.

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Interesting article posted by re-nest abundant design for green homes.  I could see exceptional growth potential with this type of architecture considering the cost of scrap materials.  I’d find it satisfying to design a rather complimentary garden and outdoor room for such a property.

Ever wonder how container architecture works? Where do the containers come from, how are they modified and exactly how much do they cost? Well, we’re hoping to do a container house at our architecture firm, so earlier this week we headed to the south side of Chicago to Vaccaro Trucking, Inc., a container shipping, storage and modification company.

The company I visited, Vaccaro Trucking, Inc. is an ISO shipping container shipping, storage and modification company. They have tons of shipping containers stored on site: all sizes, new, used and some with minor modifications (e.g. construction site offices). His company was a great resource to gain a better understanding of what options are available, how modification works and generally how much it costs (not very much). At the warehouse Vaccaro can do all raw cuts, metal work and window and door installation and they currently modifying a container to use as demonstration and marketing for container architecture (also known as containerization).

Shipping containers are designed to withstand some of the most extreme conditions and carry large loads and as such are some of the most durable structures. They are manufactured to international standards and modular sizes; can be moved across water, rail and highways; and can even be stacked inside one another. However good this may be, because the cost of shipping empty containers is so high, they are collecting and sitting unused all over the world, particularly in the US and China. All of these things make containers ideal for a second life as housing, offices, dorm rooms, and disaster shelters – pretty much any type of structure you can think of. And for cheap.

Shipping Container Specifications:

  • The common ISO Shipping container is 20’0″ or 40’0″ long; 8’0″ wide and 8’6″ tall. A taller version is available at 9’6″ tall and is known as a ‘High-Cube'(HQ) container. Long containers are also available in 45’0, 48’0″ and 53’0″ lengths and are HQ standard.
  • The containers are manufactured using a steel tube frame and corrugated Corten steel skin, which makes them not only very strong but also holds up very well to the elements.
  • The floors are made of a very strong and durable 1 1/8″ thick plywood. Some older models even have a finished quality wood plank flooring that most people would be big money to have in their house.
  • The nature of the shipping container materials and construction makes the units essentially weather tight, immune to mold, rodents, bugs and vandals
  • Some units are refrigerated (or heated), and theoretically may not need any additional insulation.
  • A typical shipping container costs around $1500; a 45’0″ long used container is about $1800; 48’0″-53’0″ long container is about $2400.

Containerization & Construction Methods:

At a plant such as Vaccaro’s, all rough modifications are made at the warehouse, including cleaning, prep work, any cuts and welding for doors and windows, actual door and window insulation and any necessary wall or ceiling openings.

  • The openings are reinforced with 3x3x1/8″ steel tubing, and larger members may be needed when cutting entire sides off containers and when merging two containers together. Windows and doors can be inserted very similar to standard door and window installation. Doors can be maintained as-is, insulated or welded shut. Additionally the handles can be shifted for easier handling at grade.
  • Entire sides and tops can be removed, containers can be cut down to size, and can conversely the can be attached together for additional length. For residential use it would be ideal to use a 40’0″ long (or longer) HQ container for the higher interior ceiling height. The containers are so strong that they can also be stacked vertically up to 9-12 units high.
  • Basic modification takes about two weeks, but the time frame depends on the complexity of the design.
  • Once the rough modifications have been made the container is shipped to it’s home site and place on any necessary foundations.
  • The level of finish is up to the owner, however a general technique would be frame out the interior sides of the corrugated walls with either wood or steel members at 16″ on-center, insulate the interior with closed cell spray foam insulation (or your choice ofeco-friendly insulation) and then finish with a layer of drywall. The exterior can be left as is if you are going for the industrial look, or it too can be framed, insulated and sheathed, though this would require addition costs, energy and material. Framing, insulation and drywall will reduce the interior width by approximately 6″ overall and 3″ in height.
  • Installation of all electrical and mechanical work also occurs at the property site.

Containerization Cons:

As with all new and ‘radical’ construction techniques, one of the biggest barriers is getting not only contractors and builders on board with construction methods, but also even convincing city officials that shipping containers are a good idea. The hurdle we are currently facing in Chicago, a city that burnt to the ground, is getting the proper fire rating for container homes. Even though shipping containers have demonstrated high durability and fire resistant materials, because there is no technical UL listing for this specific type of construction, they will not allow it for residential use within city limits.

One or more of these containers would make a super inexpensive, durable and modular housing unit. Because of the modularity they could be easily modified to grow or change form as a family’s needs evolve. While many of the impressive container projects we’ve seen so far are for a normal family residence, we see good prospects for these to be used as artist studios, backyard sheds, vacation homes, low-income housing and temporary and permanent disaster relief housing. Even China is currently fabricating ready-to-live containers with all the plumbing fixtures, furniture, etc. already to use in the container – how great would it be to have these in Haiti right now?

Hopefully we’ll be able actually get one of these built, Chicago or elsewhere, and we’ll let you know how it goes in one of our next installments!

Related Containerization Posts:

• Green Style: Adam Kalkin’s Shipping Container Home
• Green Style: Shipping Container Homes by Infiniski
• A Warm Shipping Container House
• Recycled Container Community
• Container House by Leger Wanaselja Architecture
• Hot or Not? Shipping Container Getaway
(Images: Top:Shipping Container Homes by Infiniski; All others by Rachel Wray)

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Winter in the Chicago area can be expensive for a homeowner.  There are all kinds of commonsense ways to help on being efficient in a cold climate.  It’s not always easy to remember all the various ways to winterize, so here is a helpful link to refresh your memory.

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There are healthy signs in the Chicagoland real estate market.  According to the Illinois Association of Realtors, pent-up demand and a tax credit drive, have pushed sales up 33.3% in the Chicago area, as of October ’09.  Statewide, numbers are also up in the double digits, at 24.2%.  These are encouraging signs for sales that have been on the decline over the last couple years.  Between the record low interest rates offered on mortgages and the tax incentives, buyers are stepping off the curb to take advantage of the buyers market.  For more on this latest trend, click here.

Interested in seeing what’s available in Chicago or the North Shore?  Call or email Jason Hartong of Prudential Rubloff.  Tel. 1.847.512.2781 or email. jhartong@rubloff.com

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There are endless ways to add a little something, to spice up a bland living space.  New homes offer many desirable characteristics but many times lack anything to distinguish themselves, from the rest of the pack.  A great way to solve the cookie cutter syndrome is to buy antique salvage.  Anything from the kitchen sink to an ornate vintage mantel can be found and easily installed.

I’m rather fond of AGA stoves.  This native kitchen appliance of the British Isles, has a long history in cottages and country homes.  AGA cookers or as we call them in North America, stoves, have begun to emerge in stylish living spaces across the US.  Favoured for their sturdy construction and multitude of colour choices, they have a vintage look that lends well to the brands versitility in a modern dwelling.  Apart from being bought new, the older ones are very collectible.  For more about AGA stoves, visit aga-ranges.com

A great source for a vast range of antique salvage is, Salvage One.  The company is located in Chicago and carries everything from lighting fixtures to Victorian door knobs.  Plan to spend several hours there, as they have three full floors of showroom.  For further details, click here.

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For the city dweller, a new and very useful service has arrived.  Chicago now has a savvy guide to parking lots, garages and street parking regulations by zip code.  You put in an address for the area you wish to park in and out comes a list of parking options with maps for all those areas saturated with cars.  It’s a huge timesaver having a plan for parking your wheels before you set out. Click here

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