Ready to update their home in a historic neighborhood in Chicago, Shondi and Jake Nickell—he started the crowdsourced T-shirt company Threadless in 2000, which now produces a wide variety of apparel, shoes, and home goods—tapped Shumaker Design + Build Associates to incorporate lots of natural light and a rich color and material palette into their new kitchen.
The firm started by lightly reorganizing the space to make the kitchen triangle more efficient and create room for a built-in dining area. A small existing rear addition became a cozy sunroom with seating, plants galore, and a gracious connection to the backyard via a new Nana window. A mudroom and butler’s pantry rounds out the new scheme.
Since the previous kitchen was functional, the Nickells lived with it until the end of its useful life. “After living here for five years, it really got to the point where everything was broken in the kitchen,” says Shondi. “We had super-glued all of the cabinets back together and all of the appliances had broken. It was going to cost us serious money just to maintain what was there, or we could invest a little more money and get what we wanted out of the kitchen.”
For the 2018 remodel, the firm’s process started with bringing more natural light into the back of the house, where the kitchen is located. “It’s a really grand house and it has a lot of historic value,” says Garry Shumaker, who runs the firm with partner Suzanne Shumaker. “It was built in 1894, so one of the biggest space-planning issues we had was how to make a modern kitchen and bring unconventional light and views into a house of this size and age.”
“Where the house sits, it’s sandwiched between these two structures,” says Garry. This made accessing good natural light and views a challenge. A breakthrough move in the design consisted of installing windows on the north wall with glass-backed cabinets over them, thereby admitting natural light into the house, but not giving less-than-ideal views of surrounding buildings too much visual weight.