By Brian Salgado
An Expert in Where to Find Types of Architecture
When Cathy Walsh of Brush Hill Realty in Hinsdale gauges the needs of her residential clients in the western suburbs, requests to view homes from a particular designer or type of architecture are infrequent. Instead, homebuyers often guide Walsh toward areas that are known for clusters of specific models of homes like bungalows in Berwyn, “Sears homes” in Downers Grove and Hinsdale Victorians.
“A contemporary home is a hard sell in Hinsdale, but in Burr Ridge or Oak Brook, contemporary homes are very popular,” Walsh says. “In my experience, people are more interested not so much in the exact style of architecture, but more the town they’re going to live in.”
Walsh is the Realtor to hire for those who are looking for an agent with in-depth knowledge of neighborhood-specific clusters of similarly designed homes. Through the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Walsh volunteers as a tour host of various neighborhoods throughout Chicago. Her tours include the Bungalows by Bus on the north and south sides and the Frank Lloyd Wright homes in Oak Park.
In a suburb like Hinsdale, for instance, new construction is more desirable than existing homes, according to Walsh. However, there is still a demand for the Victorian style that has made Hinsdale famous – minus the troubleshooting the original homes might require.
Oftentimes, buyers aren’t as interested in the specific type of architecture a structure displays, but rather specific features of the home itself. This is especially the case when it comes to the external features of a home.
“Frequently, many will tell you they don’t want a stucco home, or they prefer all brick, or they will tell you they want a frame house,” Walsh says. “Sometimes, the material outside of the home will dictate what style they want.”
So far, Walsh admits architecture hasn’t led to any purchases specifically, and she hasn’t landed any business from her architecture tours. However, she is ready to deliver her knowledge about Chicago’s rich history of innovative designs. Combined with her degree in interior design, Walsh guides homebuyers as they describe specific details they do and don’t want in their new home.
“I’m able to share architecture of a property in a particular style because I can speak in-depth on most styles,” she says. “Buyers come to me with plans and ask, ‘What do you think?’ and, ‘Tell me what you think of this style and how it all fits together.’”
Modern Architecture Appeals to Buyers
From Ron Ruby’s point of view, some of the clients buying into high rise developments designed by renowned architects often include those who make their living in construction and design business, as well.
Ruby, the broker and owner of Weichert, Realtors – First Chicago, says this was the case at 550 St. Clair. This 111-unit, 250,000-square-foot boutique building was designed by David Brininstool of Brininstool, Kerwin and Lynch, the well-known designer behind some of the most distinctive buildings in the city as well as the Racine Art Museum in Racine, Wis.
“We sold to some buyers who were also architects and designers who I think saw the unique qualities of the building,” Ruby says. “You have to like that kind of architecture, and this building certainly appealed to those who like that modern style.”
Amenities like an indoor pool – something not usually found in buildings this size – also drew the buyers to 550 St. Clair, Ruby adds.
The modern design of 550 St. Clair has appealed to enough buyers to the point that only 15 units remain unsold. The design process for 550 St. Clair was unique, according to Ruby, because Brininstool was given free reign to determine the best use of the space. The result was a variety of open, flexible floor plans with modern European kitchens, German cabinetry and expansive views. The exterior is entirely clad in glass to accentuate the contemporary look.
Ruby admits modern and contemporary styles do not appeal to everyone, but those who are attracted to these designs flock to buildings like 550 St. Clair. In fact, Ruby helped one couple from Orlando, Fla., map out the layout of their dream second home. The couple wanted to purchase two units on lower floors to create a 2,900-square-foot unit vs. settling for the typical 1,625 square feet.
Since they purchased their units during the pre-construction phase, Ruby says he was able to sit down with his clients to sketch out their desires and tweak the original floor plans to meet their specific needs. He then turned over these requests to the design team, who incorporated them into one unit that was completely original when compared to the rest of the building.
“The combined unit at 550 St. Clair was a matter of being able to understand which walls and fixtures couldn’t be moved and visualizing the space, listening to the client’s wants and needs and getting a good scale ruler to draw in the new walls, etc., enabled us to create a newly designed space,” Ruby says. “We were able to transform two units from the way they were to completely different designs, and it turned into a great space.”