A pair of architects and a real estate developer have crafted a single-family home in Chicago that’s actually affordable to most buyers, and it has tons of modern personality to offer.

Front view of Chicago's affordable new

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Developed on one of Chicago’s typical 25-by-125-foot residential lots, the 1,300-square-foot Hem House was the brainchild of Ann Lui and Craig Reschke, co-founders of Chicago-based architecture company Future Firm, and real estate developer Joseph Root.

Side exterior view of the Future Firm-designed Hem House in Chicago.

“While there’s a very vibrant art and culture scene in Chicago, there isn’t a lot of bespoke contemporary architecture, and what exists in residential is almost exclusively very high end — so we’re hoping to help change that narrative,” explains Ann Lui. “Because Chicago residential lots are all the same size, it’s easy for people to repeat plans and end up with a lot of underwhelming architecture. We’d like to be a trend in a different direction.”

Living room inside Chicago's affordable new Hem House.

Modern open plan kitchen space inside Chicago's affordable new Hem House.

“We wanted to create a house using a few strategic construction and design ideas to keep costs down, as an idea for Chicago’s vacant residential lots,” adds Craig Reschke.

Joseph Root agrees. “We see a lot of home builders that want to build on the luxury side, million-dollar-plus homes. And then there’s affordable developers,” he says. “When I looked at the numbers, I said this is a great opportunity to meet in the middle.”

Stairway near the Hem House kitchen leads up to the mezzanine.

View of the Hem House ground floor interiors from behind the staircase.

While the Hem House is narrower than average for these lots (16 feet as opposed to 20), it makes up for that loss of interior width with more room for side gardens. The dwelling consists of two different-sized rectangular stacked boxes, creating space for three single-sloped roof areas. Those angles, along with the black metal siding, create a modern look full of ultra-clean lines.

Inside, the house’s stacked shape allows for a two-story-tall ceiling over the kitchen, with high, oversized windows letting plenty of natural light in for added sustainability.

Spacious mezzanine level inside Chicago's affordable new Hem House.

From the entryway, residents step into the laundry/mudroom combination space, and then pass by the 220-square-foot main bedroom, the smaller 150-square-foot bedroom, and a shared bathroom. The hallway opens up into the open-concept kitchen and living area, and stairs grant access to the 150-square-foot mezzanine that includes a bedroom and bathroom.

The architects chose to keep all the interior surfaces white or natural to provide an airy, spacious vibe, contrasting the light walls with polished concrete floors.

Hem House residents talk to each other from different floors thanks to the home's open layout.

After buying the land for just $13,000 from the Cook County Lank Bank Authority – an organization aimed at better utilizing vacant lots in Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods — the design and development team listed the house last summer for $399,000. It sold in just four days.

Darlene Dugo, deputy director of the CCLBA, was proud of the final product. “For too long, blight caused by decades of redlining and the 2008 housing crisis has depressed property values and economic investment in Black and Brown neighborhoods,” she said. “By reclaiming vacant lots and building affordable, beautiful community assets, Hem Development is demonstrating what is possible when we enable local architects and developers to resurrect abandoned space.”

Aerial view of Chicago's affordable new Hem House.

Lui, Reschke, and Root have plans to create multiple versions (two-bedroom and four-bedroom models) of the Hem House for reasonably-priced duplication on other vacant Chicago lots.