View of the Harry Weese River Cottages from the Kinzie Street bridge Credit: Andrea Bauer

From the Reader‘s tenth-floor office, the staff has a clear view of the Harry Weese River Cottages, located on Canal Street at the edge of Wolf Point’s west bank. We’ve often wondered what’s behind the architectural gem’s many slanted windows. Earlier this fall, when one of the riverfront town house’s units went on the market for the first time since it was completed in 1988, we jumped at the chance to tour the space designed by Weese, the lauded late architect whose many creations include the circular Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist and the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

Weese conjured the idea for the cottages in the 1950s during a bicycle trip in Budapest, Hungary, where he saw many residences along the Danube River. The north-side native was determined to bring the aesthetic back to Chicago. In the 1980s, he set out to build a series of modern minimalist homes designed for waterfront living on the Chicago River. He bought all the property along Wolf Point, his goal “to turn the riverfront into something very special,” says Michele Miller of Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty, one of the property’s listing agents. But the project never came to fruition. He built four units of the cottage before the development fell through due to high costs and slow sales. 

Weese designed the ground floor to feel like the lower deck of a ship.Credit: Andrea Bauer

With 4,000 square feet of living space stretched out over five levels, the postmodern town-house unit is nautically themed, naturally. An avid sailor himself, Weese intended the homes in the River Cottages to feel like ships. The ground level mimics a lower deck with tiled floors and low ceilings. A spiral staircase with metal handrails winds through the home. “As you come up, each deck seems to get wider, brighter, bigger. You see the angles, the rectangles, the portholes,” Miller says. On the third level, light pours in through two-story triangular windows, in which Weese incorporated the angles of the adjacent railroad bridge, which is usually locked in place at about 45 degrees: “If you look from certain windows, you can see the alignment of the lines from the bridge to the lines of the River Cottages,” Miller says. Balconies on each floor jut out like the bow of a boat, offering front-row seats to architectural tours and wedding party photo shoots on the Kinzie Street bridge. Looking south while on the rooftop deck, the Lake Street el clatters on its way over the river. The unit also has its own boat dock with room for two vessels.

The third level has the most open feelCredit: Andrea Bauer

Weese left the details of each interior open for custom design. The previous owner added a few pomo light fixtures and an intricate wall carving in the foyer. Says the other listing agent, Tanya Hamilton, also of Jameson Sotheby’s: “It will be very interesting to see what the new owners do with the space.”

Credit: Andrea Bauer
Metal railings add to the nautical feel.Credit: Andrea Bauer

Correction: This article has been amended to clarify who designed the home’s postmodern light fixtures and the wall carving in the foyer.