Over their 34 years of practice together, Stuart Cohen, FAIA, and Julie Hacker, AIA, have produced a series of beautifully designed and crafted homes in Chicago’s northern suburbs. Though traditional in style, their work exhibits a distinctly modern penchant for open floor plans, sightlines from one room to another, and bountiful natural light. This delicate balance between the classical and the modern earned them a spot on Chicago magazine’s Ten Modern Masterpieces list in 2007, for their Shingle House in Glencoe, Ill.
Cohen, Hacker, and their talented staff are known for providing clients with an exceptional level of service. They consistently lavish care on drawings, project documentation, construction communication, and follow-through. The details in their homes are crucial to the overall design; frequently, custom trim controls the organization of spaces. Their 2009 monograph, Transforming the Traditional, explains the ideas behind their work, and Cohen has also co-written two other books, Great Houses of Chicago, 1871-1921 and North Shore Chicago: Houses of the Lakefront Suburbs, 1890-1940. All three titles showcase an omnivorous love and respect for architecture through the ages. “We believe that architecture is a communicative art, that it’s about something,” Cohen says. “Architecture has a story. It says things to people.”
What is the most gratifying aspect of residential practice?
Julie Hacker: When you get the project built and the clients are happy and it’s built as designed. When you have a happy client and a happy house. Stuart Cohen: It’s gratifying to see something beautiful be built, and to have it look and feel like what you envisioned. Also, I love [hearing the client say] how much they love it and how beautiful it is. JH: When a client understands how hard you work to coordinate and achieve, and when that client is engaged in the process. It’s so much more than that initial schematic design.
What is the most frustrating aspect?
JH: Trying to read your clients, psychologically. Trying to figure out what they need. When they are dissatisfied but there’s nothing you’re going to be able to do to meet their needs because the problem has nothing to do with the architecture—that’s the most challenging and frustrating thing. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen all the time.
What is your mission statement or firm goal?
SC: To make an architecture that reflects our shared ideas about domesticity, and to make an architecture that doesn’t reject the 20th century.
What is the most indispensable tool in your office?
JH: Our employees are the most important element in our office.
What software does your firm use?
SC: We’re still doing AutoCAD. We don’t know if we will move to object-based. We still build through models, paper and cardboard models. Somehow we prefer things that are 3D rather than 2D.
Who is your ideal client?
JH: A client who values what we do, and is as clear as they can be about their programmatic needs. And if the client is a couple, it’s ideal that they be on the same page. We have some clients right now who are mensches! SC: The ideal client also will accept the realities of what their budget can and can’t buy. They get that they have to make some choices.
What is your favorite building?
SC: I have too many favorite buildings to name. JH: I have favorite interior parts of buildings.
If you didn’t have the time to design your own house, who would you hire?
JH: I’m such a control freak that I have to say I wouldn’t. I’d hire Stuart or do it myself.