Workers Cottage

A Contemporary Version of A Chicago Classic

This Bucktown Worker’s cottage reinterprets the typology that permeated the post-fire working class neighborhoods. Built with frame structure and common materials on a tight budget (much like the originals), this home interprets the workers cottage typology to support a contemporary lifestyle for the homeowners. The result is a home which blends into it’s surroundings in terms of fenestration, proportion, and form, but is markedly unique in its exterior materiality and play of light and space.

Workers cottages became popularized in Chicago’s neighborhoods after the Fire as new restrictions pushed frame construction outside of the city’s noncombustible fire limits. They were built modestly with wood framing and siding, satisfying the needs of the working class often on lots smaller than the typical 25×125. In this case, the site was 24×100 limiting the available buildable area to 2,160sqft. The unique challenge of this project was to embrace the precedent of the existing cottage that was on the site (reusing and extending it’s 17ft wide foundation) but interpret the typology to support a contemporary lifestyle for the homeowners.

The result is a home which blends into it’s surroundings in terms of fenestration, proportions, and form but showcases a play of light and space which is unique. In a tight home like this every inch matters, and rather than a simply wide open first floor it was important to the owners to keep an office on the first level. This required creative space planning including crafting a kitchen perpendicular to the length of the lot to create a longer prime living space. Finally upstairs the primary suite is crafted in a way which creates layers of function and privacy from the two other bedrooms. The result is a highly efficient, but thoughtfully articulated home which stretches the feeling of it’s modest size.

One key design feature is the exterior standing seam siding, which is modestly unique to that of the siding of many existing cottages. The originality of the design is the planning that took place from the outside in, matching available commodity window widths to the module of the siding. After studying the compatibility of various available options the 16” module was determined to be the right arrangement for flexibility. From there the planning had to work from within – working with the module and the existing constraints but creating special moments with these alignments throughout the home, such as the walk through closet, and certain strategic views as you circulate through the home. One of the key moves was to cantilever the first floor to the maximum allowable width to make room for the kitchen cabinetry to extend wall to wall within the kitchen. Finally the compact staircase and upstairs hallway is celebrated with skylights and a custom fabricated steel rail. The modest material palette, durable and long lasting material selections, and efficient maximization of space all embody the ethos of the workers cottage – celebrating these same foundational principles over a century later.