Kelly and Chris McGrath have called the verdant boulevards of Logan Square home for 14 years. Arriving prior to the current boom in the neighborhood, they contributed to its evolving character with the erection of their new home south of Palmer Square Park.
On a recent Saturday, I ventured out to their dark brick two-story and got a tour from Kelly McGrath, an event director for Mastro Steakhouse. Her husband Chris McGrath, a floor trader at the Chicago Board of Trade, was out gathering supplies for a football viewing party with his friends later that evening. Our photographer, Paulina Fadrowska, and I were greeted at the door by the McGrath pack: three Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Willie Nelson, Daisy Duke, and Ruby Red, and a boxer, Grace. And Kelly. As we settled into her spacious, light-filled kitchen and chatted over drinks, Sonoma, one of her Persians, surveyed the confab from atop a cat tree in the corner. This was clearly an animal person’s house.
Kelly is effusive about her love for Chicago. Originally from Ohio, she moved here during college and got an internship, and after a brief return to her home state to finish school, settled in permanently. Her first home was in Roscoe Village and it was there that she met Chris, then her neighbor. When the couple decided to purchase a home together, they settled on the still under-the-radar Logan Square for its affordability and beautiful location. While touring houses in the neighborhood, they encountered a builder who was willing to sell them a vacant lot he owned and construct them a house. Crisp and modern, the design is nonetheless inviting and warm.
“I always like Frank Lloyd Wright because he’s very precise and minimalistic… clean lines,” she said of her inspiration for the home.
McGrath adjusted a floor plan provided by the builder, notably enlarging the kitchen space, as she is a regular entertainer.
“When you entertain, everyone wants to be in the kitchen,” she explained. The wide room, bisected by a sizeable island, allows guests to sit at the counter and converse so she doesn’t miss out on the action as she cooks and cleans up.
Ten months after breaking ground, the couple was comfortably ensconced in what is now one of Chicago’s premiere neighborhoods. Since moving in, Kelly has made numerous adjustments to the original plan. She darkened the Brazilian cherry floors to an ebony shade, grounding the light-filled space. She also got rid of the formal dining room at the front of the house and enlarged her sitting room, which hosts two clusters of sofas and chairs that can be easily shifted to create one larger grouping. When she and Chris first moved in, she noted, she enjoyed hosting larger parties. Now, they prefer smaller, more intimate gatherings of friends.
Personal Character + Interior Style
“My personality has changed and I allowed my house to grow with me,” she said. “I wanted a sanctuary, a chill place.”
With its cozy couches in shades of brown and sage green, and its organic decorations, including a cowhide rug and objets d’art collected during her travels, it’s easy to see how the space doubles as her meditation room.
“Let me live in the house the way I want to live in it,” she said, laughing. A pair of wedding sticks, wooden sculptures representing male and female figures, peer out from a corner and a vase unearthed on an antiquing trip in Michigan perches next to the fireplace. Bone-shaped sconces on the wall, recovered in a red patterned fabric, soften the light and create a pleasant glow. And a custom table made of reclaimed walnut, with one leg fashioned from a salvaged piece of iron from a 1906 bridge, displays an array of personal treasures, from a brick snagged from her college street to a pile of books on Marilyn Monroe, another vivacious blonde whom Kelly considers a personal hero.
“I drew from things that my eye was attracted to, that my personality was attracted to,” she said, pointing out a figurine tucked here and a vase there. “A lot of my art is commissioned from friends.”
The deeply personal character of the decor continues into the basement. Overlooking the stairs to the lower level are a series of portraits depicting her three Cavaliers. Two were purchased at the Wells Street Art Fair due to their resemblance to the pups; the third was a custom piece painted by the same artist. In the basement itself, the walls are covered in panels of river rocks, part of an effort to unify the feel of the outside and inside of the home. A cat statue from a neighbor perches by the fireplace and a pair of wedding cabinets feature mementos of past pets and masks purchased in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A painting by a friend depicts the couple’s wedding in Sonoma, California; they eloped and had a small, private ceremony, after which they celebrated with dancing at a restaurant and resort called Auberge du Soleil. Another painting, by a Mexican artist, commemorates Kelly’s fortieth birthday trip to Puerta Vallarta with her five closest friends.
The upper level, too, is rife with personal touches. The lotus wallpaper in the stairway and a photograph of Chicago garages in winter continue the theme of bringing the outdoors inside. The three bedrooms all feature art that references trees and the natural world. Her second Persian, Logan, named for the neighborhood, eyes us skeptically as we tour the cool-colored master bedroom and first guest room, followed by the second, lusciously red guest room. Kelly noted that she is on the verge of redecorating up there. A custom platform bed, new floors, and new paint will refresh the area and bring it more in line with the tone of the rest of the house.
The Exterior Sanctuary
The backyard provides the McGraths with further respite from their hectic daily lives. Japanese maples, and evergreens in a variety of colors, from blue to emerald, are complemented by grasses and airy, minimalist floral touches. Tucked among the river rocks are engraved stones paying tribute to past dogs and cats. The focal point is a five-foot deep koi pond, brimming with orange and black-and-white fish trailing diaphanous fins. Kelly calls them her “water dogs.”
The fish recognize her and rise to the surface to eat from her hand and be petted. This feature hasn’t been without its headaches and heartaches. The pond had to be dug three separate times; the fish need water below the frost line to avoid freezing in the winter, thus the depth. And raccoons and weather have both taken their toll on the fish. She recalls coming home to find a yard strewn with scales left by a hungry raccoon.
As we moved back inside, Chris came home, laden with beer and other supplies for his party. Kelly giggled and said, “I’ll be turning the house over to the guys for the evening.”
We drifted out the door to the sounds of the couple planning their nights, happy and calm in their Logan oasis.
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