Andrew Spatz’s Cinema Lofts on Pitner Avenue adds a dash of surprise to the homogeneity of the nearby buildings along Main Street.

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Andy Spatz’s recent remodeling at 940 Pitner Ave. appears arbitrary at first sight. His houses at 1216 and 1220 Main St., as well as his previous remodeling projects at 930 Pitner Ave. and at the corner of Payne Street and Dewey Avenue, should have prepared Evanston residents for unexpected, yet very practical, solutions.

 It is certainly a safer approach in architecture to design within recognized historical styles, such as classical, Georgian, or the more recent Art Deco, Bauhaus modern or Miesian  minimalism. Not architect Spatz. In designing his own homes it was a gutsy move indeed to challenge the visual harmony (or monotony) of Main Street where everything was traditional. At Pitner Avenue, in an industrial area, it seems less rebellious.

 There is nothing arbitrary or irrational about the tacked-on shielding over the entrances at 930 Pitner Ave. just as there is good reason for each move at 940 Pitner Ave..

 The architects, Berry-Spatz Associates, took a one-story, undistinguished industrial building and gave it identity by superimposing shapes of aluminum siding that is whimsical, playful and completely candid about being “tacked on” at the side-yard entrance to the property.

 They then divided the building into five units paralleling the street with entrances from the side yard. The front unit is one story in height, while the rest accommodate a mezzanine. The rear unit, along the alley, has a one-car garage with an overhead door..

 All units have well-designed kitchens and bathrooms. Where there is a mezzanine, the stairs leading up have an elegantly detailed railing using perforated metal and well-thought-out details.

 The architect says he and his partner spend a lot of time shopping around, continually scouting out online retailers or local retail outlets such as Home Depot, Sam’s Club or Lemoi hardware store to pick up well-constructed and attractively designed items that retail for less money than  their equivalent from the architectural supply catalogue. This approach helps keep the sales price of units affordable.

The only criticism is the epoxy-coated raw concrete floor brings to mind one of the architect’s early projects (1998), the elegant Ixia florist shop that also has a bare concrete floor that is hardly noticeable.
It is in the 1630 Chicago Ave. high rise. Neither the large exposed concrete columns nor the beams above seem to diminish the high design quality of the store.

Formica shelving, track lighting and the amount of daylight through the generous glass walls makes one forget the exposed concrete. Add this to the good taste of the owner in selecting decorative vases, wall hangings and exquisite flower arrangements.

Two designs, Ixia and the industrial lofts at Pitner Avenue, in related but very different ways – with courage and visual conviction – add to Evanston and challenge the ordinary.