• Before It Hits The Market
  • A modernist marvel in Downers Grove

    This?house has a warm interior and walls of glass that immerse its residents in the wooded setting that surrounds it.?

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    There’s wood over one's head and beneath one’s feet in this modernist house in Downers Grove, and then outside the walls of glass, “we’re immersed in the woods,” said Pancha French. She has owned the house since 2002 with her husband, Neil French.

    79彩票注册网址Every above-ground room of the house, on Wallbank Avenue, has at least one wall of glass, “which puts us a couple of feet from the animals who pass by,” Pancha French said. While home-schooling their two children, instruction would often stop and turn to nature observation, as, for example, a hawk devoured its prey on a tree stump.

    79彩票注册网址The family of four “live in our glass bubble, hidden in nature,” she said, and yet from the street hardly anyone would know the house is there. On a street of attractive but largely conventional homes and lawns, there’s a wooded lot with a brick garage facing the street.

    Architect Richard Marker built the house for himself and his family in 1973, designing a steel-and-glass box in the style of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a cool, somewhat austere look for a home. Marker warmed up the interior with wood ceilings pierced by big skylights, crisp white walls and a bright red light tube running across the kitchen ceiling. He designed west-suburban houses, subdivisions and other buildings, few of them as boldly modernist as this. His firm still operates, now based in Yorkville.

    The Frenches added to the warmth by installing a big Scandinavian-style fireplace wall in the living room. Neil French grew up in Norway, “with log-burning fireplaces that give off a lot of heat,” he said, and wanted one in this home. It’s designed to heat the entire main living space, consume all wood without leaving heaps of ash and fit in well in Marker’s original composition.

    With their two kids leaving the nest, the Frenches plan to downsize out of the four-bedroom, 3,400-square-foot house. They’ll put it on the market this week, priced at $850,000 and represented by Brita and Elaine Pagels of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Chicago.

    See more homes in our Before It Hits The Market series.

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    The walls of glass open onto the wooded surroundings on their lot, about one-third of an acre. Neil French, who’s in construction management, points out that the numerous trees essentially function as a seasonal heating and cooling system. When the trees are bare, “you get a lot of solar gain through the glass, which is what you want in the winter,” he said, but when covered with leaves, “the trees act as a natural cooling system. It’s quite noticeable when you come inside on a hot day.” The windows are all double-glazed to prevent the loss of indoor heat, and blinds can be pulled down when needed.

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    79彩票注册网址Arriving at the house, a glass-and-steel box that appears to float above the ground, and its platform stairs is like coming upon a miniature Mies’ landmark building on the Illinois Institute of Technology campus. Because the house is screened from the street by its freestanding garage, “there’s still an amazing sense of privacy, even though we’re in a glass box,” Neil French said.

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    The look of the house changes with the seasons, as it blends into its setting. The structure is cantilevered out a bit from the foundation, which gives it the appearance of floating above the ground. Because the house is glass and steel, “we don’t have a lot of maintenance,” Neil French said, “other than window cleaning a couple of times a year and picking up leaves.”

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    Off to one side is a small deck and beyond that an addition that Marker designed for a later owner, a pavilion-like screened porch with a glass ceiling.

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    79彩票注册网址Inside, the outdoors is always nearby. The white and wood tones and the precise lines have a distinctly modernist character, “but it feels brand new because it was done so well,” Neil French said. The spiral staircase that leads to the basement is one of the few departures from the rectilinear composition.

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    Those deep skylights aren’t only a feature in the dining room. They contain lights that point upward, so that the “tree canopy above the house is lit up at night,” Pancha French said. “It’s a fantastic detail and shows the love and artistic spirit that went into this house.”
     

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    The kitchen, which is considerably larger than what’s seen here, opens onto the screened porch. Hanging overhead is a red tube, which is also much longer than the portion seen here. It’s a linear burst of warmth along the ceiling, in a color preferred by modernists from Frank Lloyd Wright forward. The simple white cabinetry, a complement to the white walls of the house, is from the 1990s.
     

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    79彩票注册网址The screened porch addition’s glass ceiling “immerses you in the outdoors,” Pancha French said. Beyond it is a hot tub.

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    While there are blinds available for blocking the windows, one time this family doesn’t use them is during thunderstorms. “The house gets quite exciting then because you feel like you’re out in the elements without getting wet,” Neil French said. The master bedroom is one of two corner rooms, with glass on two sides. “It’s very calm and meditative,” Pancha French said. “On a snowy night with a full moon, it just lights up inside.”

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    This book-lined bedroom was the French children’s schoolroom before they went to high school. Filled with sunlight, it was a pleasant place to teach her children, Pancha French said. “One of the amazing things because of the glass is that animals and birds come up quite close to the glass,” she said. “We had all our bird books, and we would identify all the birds and animals we saw.”

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    The Frenches had lived in London and briefly in Cleveland when they came to house-hunt in Chicago’s western suburbs because of a professional relocation. They hadn’t lived in a modernist home before but appreciated the style. Driving down the road of lawns and nice houses that this home is on, they “had no idea what was behind this garage,” Pancha French said. But when they got inside, “with glass and trees all around us, we knew this was the one,” Neil French said. They paid $495,000 for the house in August 2002.

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