In A Field Guide to American Houses, architectural historian Virginia Savage McAlester describes 21st century contemporary homes as the result of architects working with CAD (computer-aided design) programs who end up creating box-shaped residences covered in aluminum-like Alpolic or fiber cement Hardie Board panels. When combined with glass and concrete, the variety of wall-claddings create what McAlester calls a decoupage effect. Allison Arieff, founding editor of Dwell magazine and former columnist at The New York Times, has described this style as Minecraft Modern, a reference to the video game where players create blocky structures. Usually built as infill or replacement homes, you can’t help but notice these structures while wandering through the city. Some have taken over entire blocks of certain neighborhoods. Whatever you want to call this housing type — “Mod Boxes,” “McModerns,” or “Gentrification Cubes” — it looks like this style is here to stay.
Located in Jefferson Park, this two-year-old residence is typical of contemporary mod box designs with its street-facing windows and flat roof lines. A Google search revealed an old real estate listing of a small frame bungalow originally built in 1915. Records indicate the now-demolished cottage sold for a paltry $159,000 in June of 2017. Its 3,800-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bathroom replacement hit the market this past November for $799,000. The home sticks out from its immediate surroundings, which include a typical Northwest Side block of bungalows, ranches, and two-flats. But the fact that it’s already under contract is evidence there is a market for this kind of home, no matter the neighborhood.
Anyone wanting sustainable, luxury design should look no further than this five-bedroom, four-bathroom residence in Grand Boulevard. The home sold for $569,000 a year after its construction as urban infill in March of 2018. Now almost four years later it is on the market for $799,000. Property values have increased in the surrounding area so this should come as no surprise. Inside the Gold LEED-certified residence you’ll find a light and airy space with soaring 10-foot ceilings. An upgraded butler’s pantry with wet bar separates the living/dining area from the open chef’s kitchen with quartz countertops. Outside is an oversized backyard with a concrete pad.
The fact that there is a brand-new mod box in Dunning of all places again shows this housing style is not limited to specific neighborhoods but is a growing trend throughout the city. Records indicate the previous home that once stood here sold for $160,000 in March of 2019. Built as a replacement, the 2,400-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bathroom home is now on the market for $775,000. It has everything one would want in a contemporary single-family residence. There is an open-concept floor plan on the ground level with literally no separation between the living area and kitchen, and there’s even more openness down in the finished basement. Did I mention everything is gray and white?
Saving the priciest mod box for last with this five-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom residence in Bucktown — currently on the market for almost $2 million. It was constructed in 2016 as a replacement house for a brick workers cottage with side yard that sold in October of 2014 for $430,000. Light floods through the floor-to-ceiling windows of this open concept home. All the interior trends are found here with various stone and wood finishes, custom lighting, and chevron hardwood flooring. A dream island kitchen opens directly to a beautifully finished backyard space with outdoor wood-burning fireplace, which is perfect for entertaining. And the party can continue upstairs on the rooftop terrace.
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