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Hem House

Future Firm

Chicago, IL, United States

June 2021


Ann Lui, AIA (Principal), Craig Reschke, AIA (Principal)



Hem Development


Daniel Kelleghan


Hem House is a model to reduce the cost of construction while raising the quality of architecture through strategic construction approaches, design strategies, and building technology. The home is two stacked volumes—a long rectangular first story with a smaller rectangular 150-sf mezzanine on top. The narrow footprint of the house, at just 16’ wide, allows for cost savings in framing and exterior wall assembly away from the lot line. This strategy also makes room for an entrance that is centrally located on the side yard of the building and a double-height living space flooded with light. A single-sloped roof is made from simple pre-fab trusses, allowing for fast and easy framing and the reduction of gutters and storm water on site. The home’s exterior wall reduces the complexity and labor of multi-material assemblies by utilizing an integrated air and water barrier in the structural sheathing.

Materials were also chosen for their cost effectiveness and long-term durability: the home is monolithically clad in black metal siding typically used for roofing, giving a sharp, clean look while also being low maintenance. Additionally, the house is slab on grade inside a frost wall, a decision which reduced excavation costs while also creating a more accessible space for wheelchair users, strollers, and other similar conditions. The insulated slab-on-grade construction also allowed for exposed polished concrete floors which provide a durable and beautiful floor surface. The back patio is created with a series of concrete pavers which also allow rain water to easily percolate into the ground.


Located in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood, Hem House is a 1,300-sf home that makes contemporary architecture available to a broad market. When listed at $399,000 in 2021, Hem House was the fifth least expensive new construction single-family home on the market. While Hem House does not compete with subsidized affordable housing in the neighborhood, the project helps fill in the “missing middle” of housing options and explores a potential response to Chicago’s over 20,000 vacant lots. Hem House is built on a lot purchased from the Cook County Land Bank Authority.

Hem House sits in the middle of a residential street in East Garfield Park, within walking distance of the local public park and public transportation. In scale, the structure adheres to its context, while in plan and

materiality, it stands out from the typical brick and
stone townhouses and two-flats that surround it. The project reorients the typical Chicago 25 x 125-foot residential lot by creating a narrower, 16-foot-wide home with a 6-foot setback, allowing for an ample side garden, central entrance, and windows lining the long facade.

The project was developed and constructed by Hem Development, a joint venture by Future Firm co-principal Craig Reschke. This partnership brings together development, architecture, and construction in order to lower the cost of construction while raising the quality of housing through building technology and design. In 2023, Hem Development completed two additional variations on the original Hem House model, integrating changes from community feedback.


Hem House provides a new model for a contemporary and flexible single-family home on a typical narrow Chicago residential lot, making particular use of vacant land. Darlene Dugo, Deputy Director of the
CCLBA said of the project: “At the Cook County Land Bank Authority, we’re proud to partner with local organizations and developers that have ambitious visions for their communities. 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. 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. We are proud to partner with them on this state-of-the-art housing project.”

In 2023, two additional Hem Houses were completed with a slightly larger footprint on level two based on feedback from community members and potential buyers and have since been sold to neighborhood buyers. The building technology ideas explored at Hem House have also generated a concept for a row-house system, with the potential to maximize construction cost savings through the construction of adjoining buildings. Lastly, Future Firm’s successful “test case” with Hem House has led to a partnership with a community-led developer, comprising neighborhood residents, exploring infill on 20 City-owned properties with the long term goal of building neighborhood wealth and minimizing displacement.

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