Highland Design

Highland Design

A four-pack of modernist homes with overtures toward Los Angeles’s Case Study Houses is planned for downtown Highland Park, Illinois. The deep references to the revered midcentury architectural showcase are right in the project name—Case Study Houses 2111.

“Case Study was an experiment in materials and economy,” said project architect and co-developer Peter Nicholas, founder and president of Nicholas Design Collaborative. “We have less of the economy side, but the project aligns in that it’s a new look at the old problem of private versus social space.”

What results is an adventurous aesthetic offshoot without any grand illusion of setting the region aflame with a new design-build paradigm.

Highland Park is no stranger to modernism, with influential works by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Stanley Tigerman. But the look and orientation of these designs are without a local precursor.

The concept molds a modest site into a four-home compound with a shared auto court and perforated eight-foot garden walls wrapping each brick and stucco cube dwelling. It’s an enclave, not one house on a lot next to another house on a lot.

The auto court is narrow like an Old World private drive and cobbled like a piazza. Homes are built to the site line, and the public-private interplay at the center is echoed in the indoor-outdoor flow of living space within each set of garden walls. The courtyards and patios are “rooms” to their designer’s mind.

“Chicagoans tend to put objects in the middle of lots without considering the links between indoor and outdoor. I’ve always tried to work with the whole site,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas puts a lot of California in his work, even though he mostly designs for the Upper Midwest. “Out in L.A. you throw up some sticks and glass and you’re good to go,” he said. “Our climate demands we build better as a rule, so it’s not too much of a stretch to incorporate a variety of outdoor spaces that, while used seasonally, are nice to look at year round.” These spaces interface with thermo-pane low-E glass walls and open cell spray foam insulation does well to seal the exterior.

The individual three- and four-bedroom houses are approximately 3,400 square feet with another 1,200 square feet of private outdoor space designed around circulation and sightlines. Floor-to-ceiling glass is framed in zinc and the forecourt, Nicholas’s favorite space, remains in full view from anywhere on the main floor. Checkered stone pavers from the auto court overflow into the enclosed patios, an avenue for community only when you’re in the mood.

The project skated through public review and should break ground in early spring with staggered completion 10 to 15 months later. They are for sale starting at $1.65 million.