Follow the Clues

In 2014, I was in a personal rut. Although I loved my job working on retrofit, I was living in Chicago surrounded by millions of people but feeling increasingly isolated. My local friends had all gotten married or were having kids, and the city and its crime were beginning to affect me, literally and figuratively. I wanted to leave Chicago and move closer to my family in my home state of Iowa, but I felt trapped by my condo. I still was underwater after the 2008 downturn and my 15-unit building only allowed three rentals, all of which were rented.

It was during this time of unhappiness that Michael, an industry friend who always imparts sage advice, made a reappearance into my life via telephone. He reminded me that we can easily make excuses for not doing something that will make us happier; most of these excuses are financial. Michael urged me to be open to clues from the universe that would show me the path I needed to follow to find my happiness again. At the time, I wasn’t sure what sort of clues I should be looking for—or even how to look for them—but Michael had never steered me wrong before so I remained open to his wisdom.

A few weeks later, my phone rang on a Friday at 5 p.m. and the number wasn’t one I recognized. I assumed it was a business call and, even though I wanted to start my weekend, I took the call. That call made me 30 minutes late for my nightly walk with my dog, Belle. When Belle and I returned home from our walk, I noticed a realtor showing one of the units in my building that was a rental. I ran up to my condo and immediately emailed the condo board, saying, if that unit did indeed sell, I wanted to be the third rental in the building. The next week, the board confirmed I could rent my unit. One month later, I had hired a property manager who found my first tenant while movers hauled my household to Iowa. Three weeks after that, I met my future husband in Iowa. At the time of this writing, we have a 14-month-old daughter. Talk about a turn of events, simply because I had taken a phone call at 5 p.m. on a Friday! By taking that call, the path for my future was laid out before me. I just had to take the first step.

I continuously am reminded about following clues that lead to beautiful outcomes while editing this magazine. At least one gorgeous renovation in every issue features an architect who says his team was true to the original architecture of the building—basically, the path was there; the design team just needed to be true to it. In this issue, that story is “Transformation”. Brian Lee, FAIA, LEED AP, design partner with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Chicago, says his team strived to connect their design for Optimo, an old-school hat-making shop in Beverly, Ill., with the craftsmanship displayed in the 1914 firehouse that would house Optimo.

Wanting to stay in the neighborhood in which Optimo got its start, Graham Thompson, Optimo’s owner, purchased the old firehouse for $1 through a community development program. He was very interested in maintaining the look of the original firehouse. The result is a stunning space that beautifully melds the hatmaker’s aesthetic to the architecture of the space.

Only by following the clues from the firehouse could Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s design team have created the magnificent space that is Optimo, just like following clues the universe presented to me resulted in changes in my life for which I’m eternally grateful.

About the Author

Christina A. Koch
Christina A. Koch is editorial director and associate publisher of retrofit.

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