A Design Partner and architect at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Walter Netsch employed the same level of design ingenuity in his own home as he did his major projects. A champion of brutalism and field theory, his fractal-like designs relied on geometry and program, intricately fitting form to function.
Netsch House’s original design was a deceptively simple box from the outside, but featured many interior levels and platforms, connected by open-riser stairs, creating a wonderful spatial richness within. After Walter’s wife passed away in 2013, the new owners brought in the SOM design team to return the house, in spirit, to its original beauty.
Netsch House is situated inconspicuously in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood. Multi-story ceiling heights give the illusion of a much larger house. Skylights that at first seem strangely placed reveal themselves as highly calculated, illuminating specific spaces at specific times of day during the year. Netsch’s expansive field theory creates sight lines to rooms that one would otherwise seem like an impossible connection; indeed, the only rooms in the entire house with doors are the bathrooms. The SOM team worked with the new owners to sensitively adapt or renew selective elements of the structure.
New appliances and cabinetry were added to a well-worn kitchen. A continuous 40-foot walnut counter and shelf were installed to recall the long linear service bar. The half bath was renewed with new counters, lighting and a cleverly concealed water closet. Below, tile work and counters refresh the existing master bathroom configuration. In keeping with the open concept, concealed sliding doors at the bath and master bedroom area were designed and installed for privacy.
All gypsum board and concrete block surfaces were painted a soft white to celebrate the beautiful natural lighting from the skylights above. Original green painted and natural wood trim were retained. Flooring and stair treads were restored or replaced as needed and “helper” white painted blocks were added to make the stairs less daunting.
Classic and contemporary furniture pieces were selected to create a new ambiance appropriate to the space. An SOM-designed custom sofa forms an edge to the living platform and anchors that social space. Above the sofa, the large uncovered wall acts as a backdrop for commissioned site-specific projected digital art by Luftwerk.