Christen Carter in her Palmer Square kitchen. Credit: Leslie Schwartz

My wife and I were sitting on our front porch one evening this summer, having a drink and watching the sunlight head west up the street, and she said, “This is the best room in the house.” And I agreed. And that’s how this year’s Nest Issue got its theme.

Our porch is 115 years old, with a varnished wood ceiling and a painted wood floor. It’s open on three sides to let the breeze come through. But it’s also protected by bushes and plants my wife can name, so we can have our privacy while we watch our neighbors. It has cushioned chairs and a little table. Our dog won’t let us sit out there without her.

It’s as perfect as any place we know—especially during the summer—and the reason is that it provides a setting where we can enjoy ourselves and each other, be part of our community yet sheltered, feel at once relaxed and enlivened. It’s comfortable. It’s where we like to be.

Here are five portraits of rooms Chicagoans have created that do for them something like what our porch does for us. The rooms are designed for eating, working, watching, and hanging out. All of them are artworks of a sort; one is nothing but. Another is as much outside as in. But all are where the people who made them like to be. —Tony Adler

A Busy Beaver’s Kitchen

As founder and CEO of Busy Beaver Button Company, Christen Carter has plenty to do. But she heads home for lunch almost daily to enjoy the kitchen in her Palmer Square apartment—on the top floor of a 1912 two-flat she owns a mere four blocks from the brand-new Busy Beaver factory, which opened last month to great fanfare.

Carter has been renovating the apartment herself over the last five years. With clean-lined custom cabinets (built by Mode Carpentry of Publican restaurant fame, whose principal rents Carter’s downstairs apartment), and all-new appliances (including, Carter jokes, a refrigerator that has “crispers instead of a rotter”), she’s now inspired to cook regularly with her live-in boyfriend Brett Sova, frontman for the local band Mass Shivers.

Carter’s favorite kitchen features were among the iffiest elements of the renovation: the exposed brick walls her carpenter convinced her to keep, and a built-in, bar-height counter she added at the last minute even though she wasn’t sure how she’d use it. Turns out she uses it a lot, for working, reading, holding her computer (“I get my recipes online”), and of course lunching. —Lisa Skolnik

Credit: Leslie Schwartz
Credit: Leslie Schwartz
Credit: Leslie Schwartz
Credit: Leslie Schwartz

The Well-Traveled Living Room

In 2000 Virginia Heaven was back home in Chicago, taking a quick break from a curatorial job in Saudi Arabia and looking to get out of her increasingly cramped Ukrainian Village rental, when she toured a 2,400-square-foot vintage condo for sale in Rogers Park. The British-born fashion scholar, now an assistant professor at Columbia College, was so impressed with the living room’s peaked wood ceilings, arched windows, and Spanish architectural accents that she had a contract signed before hopping the plane back to Riyadh at week’s end. “It never stops being magical,” she says.

Heaven’s taste is so eclectic and global (“I’ve never followed a particular design style”) it seems a wonder that her things—lots of oil lamps, stained glass windows, big baskets filled with antlers or pine cones—coexist peacefully among the room’s many throws and tapestries. A large antique American quilt hangs on the wall opposite the fireplace, and souk-bought Tekke rugs in deep shades of crimson and indigo cover much of the floor around an 1890 chaise lounge and a conventional comfy sofa covered in yet more tribal rugs. “Even though there’s a lot of visual stimulation,” says Heaven, “for me it feels very calming.” —Tate Gunnerson

Credit: Leslie Schwartz
Credit: Leslie Schwartz
Credit: Leslie Schwartz
Credit: Leslie Schwartz

A Green Garage in a Garden

There’s an awful lot of outside here,” says Paul Klein of the land surrounding the house he and Amy Crum bought four years ago on the north branch of the Chicago River. “So you have to accept it, embrace it, and balance the green features with the bugs.”

A painter turned florist who owns Blumen Design, Crum approached the multilot expanse like a blank canvas, “painting” it with plants and balancing color, scale, and texture as the garden developed. Klein, an art dealer turned arts advocate, transformed a third of the garage into a singular home office with the help of green-oriented designer Jennifer Pierce. Now, he says, he spends most of his time there. “I can watch the river from my window.”

The rehab features walls made of recycled planks and palettes, ceilings insulated with straw bales, solar heat, simple furniture, and a few choice artworks. The other two thirds of the structure is a neighborhood-kid magnet: Klein’s teenage son, Brice, keeps his trampoline there. —Lisa Skolnik

Credit: Leslie Schwartz
Credit: Leslie Schwartz
Credit: Leslie Schwartz
Credit: Leslie Schwartz

A Great Room With a View

The sound of screeching brakes is a fact of life for the Lynch family. Cars are always stopping short in front of their home on a workaday street in North Center—a phenomenon they choose to take as a tribute. A tall, sleek, red-brick box with gigantic front-and-back glass walls, the place is like a supermodel at a neighbor­hood bar.

The noise is “the only deficit” the family faces on the main level of the house—more or less one big room where they do most of their living, says Brad Lynch, a principal in the Brininstool & Lynch architecture firm. Lynch designed the two-year-old structure to replace the 1907 frame bungalow the family had lived in since 1990. After drafting dozens of residences for clients, he knew what he wanted for his own, and that included the 1,400-square-foot open-plan space, which features a state-of-the art kitchen with a 20-foot-long stainless-steel island, freestanding furniture that Lynch also designed, and dual views (streetscape in front, walled pavilion in back). He and his family—wife Karen and teenagers Annie and Blake—use the area for lounging, cooking, eating, entertaining, working, and playing. “It’s improved family togetherness,” says Lynch. “And we kind of like the screeches.” —Lisa Skolnik

Credit: Leslie Schwartz
Credit: Leslie Schwartz
Credit: Leslie Schwartz

Grandma’s Henry VIII Commemorative Bedroom

How are we going to do the beheadings?” Jackie Seiden recalls one of her three grandchildren wondering aloud on a visit from London two summers ago. The kids—Bella, Ollie, and Eva, then nine, seven, and three—were working on a play about Henry VIII to perform for family and friends.

Seiden, an artist known for Joseph Cornell-esque arrangements of found objects in suitcases and other containers, was so taken with the show they came up with that she took over an unused bedroom to commemorate it, creating a giant shadow box in the Rogers Park house she shares with her husband, fellow artist Don Seiden. Props and photos—most prominently large portraits of the kids—are pinned to the room’s chartreuse and sea-foam-green walls. The lights are kept dim, and there’s a Shakespearean creepiness in elements like the female doll—three feet tall, with flowing black hair and period costume—positioned facedown on the bed. Bella, Ollie, and Eva evidently solved the decapitation dilemma: a plastic head lies on the floor near the entry.

“I was in heartache after they left,” says Seiden. “But the energy of the day is concretized in that little space.” —Tate Gunnerson

Credit: Leslie Schwartz
Credit: Leslie Schwartz
Credit: Leslie Schwartz
Credit: Leslie Schwartz