Small interventions in this Chicago condo punch above their weight

Passion Project

On paper, New Office is quite new. While Annabell Dai Ren and Elliott Riggen have collaborated on a handful of projects in the past, they formally incorporated their professional partnership only in January, after quitting their day jobs at large Chicago architecture firms. The pair, who first met at the Illinois Institute of Technology, have found a niche in remodels, said Riggen. “The market is there for little projects. During the pandemic people were reviewing their own desires, and some had the opportunity to make them a reality.”

Ren counts herself among them. Two years ago she and her husband purchased a historic condo with ten foot-tall ceilings in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. While stately, the unit had its drawbacks among them a small, worn bathroom and zero storage closets to its name. They pulled in Riggen and began mulling decisions on how to address these oversights. “We had some money but didn’t want to spend it all on a $5,000 sofa,” Ren said. “Instead, we wanted to build things but taking our time.”

The unit had high ceilings and next to no storage, prompting Ren to insert full-height build-ins that incorporate secondary functions, e.g., seating, display cases, dressing room.

(Annabell Dai Ren)

And so money and person-power were put into building two full-height built-ins, as well as the wood-dowel shower rods and an ameboid mirror in the bathroom. Writable surfaces, carved into geometric shapes, cover the walls of the dining room. These naive touches have a basis in economic realities: younger practices working with smaller projects necessarily “work in two dimensions,” Ren said. “We would love to work in three!”

Until then, they are happy with taking on little passion projects, especially their own, Ren added. The Lincoln Park remodel, which is nearly finished, gave New Office “a chance to see what we were made of.”

Header image: Annabell Dai Ren, one half of the Chicago design firm New Office, recently remodeled her Lincoln Park condo. Cutouts of writable surfaces were affixed to the walls of the dining/work area for brainstorming. (Annabell Dai Ren)