Chicago architects continue to pay tribute to the legacy of world-renowned architects of yesteryear who made their home in the city. Architects like Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright set the standard with pragmatic, environmentally focused designs. While the city’s easily accessible suburbs provide opportunities for historic rehabs and new green-focused construction, the real trend is an influx of people moving into the city, seeking an urban oasis in trendy neighborhoods like Lincoln Square and River North. Major renovation projects are giving the city’s row homes and condos new life. Chicago’s new urban designs blend modern and classic elements and focus on sustainability, privacy, natural light, and simple elegant spaces. The following 10 architectural firms are ranked according to their prestige, accolades, industry recognition, and forward-thinking designs.

This list includes both licensed architects and residential designers who can both design stunning homes but differ in other services offered. Architects are trained in design, engineering, and project management and have passed a licensing exam. Residential designers typically don’t manage projects and plans will need to be approved by a structural engineer. Whether you choose to hire an architect or a residential designer will depend on your project needs and complexity.

Top Architects

Collective Office

Jeff Klymson
Carlo Parente

AIA Citation of Merit

9 E. 24th Street, Chicago, IL 60616

About Collective Office

Collective moved from Toronto to Chicago in 2004 and has a wide reach with projects not just in in Illinois, but also in Michigan, Virginia, and Canada. Collective Office was founded by Principal Jeff Klymson, member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), to focus on both practice and research for residential and commercial clients. Through his practice, Klymson attempts to create “a more intuitive connection for people in the built environment.” He also teaches at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) where he received his own Master of Architecture degree. Design Principal Carlo Parente, AIA, complements Klymson’s approach by combining performance-based design and new technology. He joined Collective Office from the esteemed Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, where he led award-winning architecture and master projects in North America, Asia, and the Middle East. Parente also teaches at IIT and serves as Co-President for the Chicago Architecture Club.

Featured Projects

Collective’s West Loop Residence remodel was named as an “Editor’s Pick” in Dwell magazine. They updated the ‘80s-era concrete loft with a more modern design. The remodel features finely detailed built-in shelving and amenities, using rift and quartered white oak and walnut millwork. Collective Office also converted a two-bedroom apartment, originally built by Mies, into a more clean and open one bedroom. The apartment now better caters to the needs of the owner, with a dedicated dining space for entertaining, and a larger, more comfortable bathroom. The indoor architecture project received an AIA Citation of Merit in 2016.

Liederbach & Graham Architects

Phillip Liederbach
R. Michael Graham

ICA Excellence Awards,
AIA Awards

500 N Wells Street, Chicago, IL 60654

About Liederbach & Graham Architects

Principals Phillip Liederbach and R. Michael Graham founded their firm in 1991 in order to design and produce carefully crafted residential and commercial buildings. They keep their team small (12 people) in order to maintain significant personal focus on each client. Both principals studied with Thomas H. Beeby, one of the “Chicago Seven,” which was a postmodern group of influential architects in Chicago who were especially active in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Liederbach and Graham Architects has received several Excellence in Architecture awards from the Institute of Classic Architecture and the American Institute of Architecture for their residential designs. Their work has also been featured in House Beautiful, Luxe, and Traditional Home, as well as in several books.

Featured Projects

Liederbach & Graham won a 2016 AIA Small Project Award for their design of a single-family home on Burling Street. The residential street in Lincoln Park is known for being one of the priciest in the city. (The home itself was priced at $8.95M.) The firm designed two houses on one lot altogether totaling 7,800 square feet, five bedrooms, and six baths. The main house, standing at over 4,600 feet, won the award for its playful design. “A Little Spark of Madness” is carved into the kitchen island, serving as the home’s built-in motto. A Lincoln Park townhouse was similarly designed to be playful (i.e. kid-friendly), while also bold and elegant. The townhouse with interior design by Steven Gambrel, was featured in House Beautiful in 2014. Its 1940s-style entryway, complete with a black-and-white marble floor, sets the mood from the start.

Brininstool + Lynch Architecture Design

David Brininstool
Brad Lynch

AIA Design Excellence Awards,
American Architecture Awards,
Architectural League of New York Emerging Voice in Architecture

1144 W. Washington Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60607

About Brininstool + Lynch Architecture Design

Founding partners David Brininstool and Brad Lynch established their firm 1989. They have since received over 50 major design awards, including 27 Design Excellence Awards from the American Institute of Architects, four Residential Architect Design Awards, and three American Architecture Awards. They Brininstool + Lynch was named an Emerging Voice in architecture by the Architectural League of New York. The firm has been featured in the monographs Building on Modernism (Edizioni Press, 2002), and Brininstool + Lynch (Casas Internacional, 200). In 2014, New City named Brad Lynch in their Design 50: Who Shapes Chicago. While the firm designs commercial and mixed-use projects, they are best known their private homes.

Featured Projects

The firm’s Wood House, finished in 2013, received a small project award from AIA, the Residential Architect Design Award, and the American Architecture Award for the Chicago Athenaeum — Museum of Architecture and Design. The firm was guided by the principles of privacy, sustainability, and indoor-outdoor continuity. The focal point of the L-shaped home is a private rear courtyard. Despite its name, the 2,400-square-foot home is built with brick and copper and balanced with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, an open floor plan, and glass exterior doors that lead into the courtyard. In 2010, Brininstool + Lynch’s Claremont House received two Residential Architect Design Awards and Citations of Merit for A Distinguished Building and Divine Detail from AIA Chicago. Defying the common contemporary request for privacy, the most stand-out feature is the first-floor level front window, standing at over 10 feet high and 14-feet wide. Through the open-floor-plan, onlookers can see all the way into the backyard. Besides its heavy use of windows, the 4,300-square-foot home uses an assortment of brick, concrete, limestone, steel, and zinc.

Wheeler and Kearns Architects

Dan Wheeler
Larry Kearns

AIA Chicago Firm of the Year

343 South Dearborn Street, Suite 200, Chicago, IL 60604

About Wheeler and Kearns Architects

AIA Chicago Firm of the Year in 2016, Wheeler and Kearns designs award-winning single-family homes and a wide array of commercial projects, and is also well-known for their philanthropic efforts. Their services also include interior furniture and landscape design. Founding Principal Dan Wheeler, FAIA, is a professor of architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to starting his own firm in 1988, Wheeler acted as studio head at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and received an NEA traveling fellowship as well as the CCAIA Young Architect Award. Larry Kearns, FAIA LEED AP, became a principal in 1990 and, among other projects, has led work on many ambitious educational projects that have shaped schools across Chicago. Wheeler and Kearns were the 2008 Chicago Tribune’s “Chicagoans of the Year” in Architecture.

Featured Projects

With unobstructed views of Lake Michigan, Wheeler and Kearns designed a 4,600-square-foot, single-family residence on Lake Shore Drive. The wedge-shaped structure, with a smooth limestone façade, is peppered with large, east-facing windows and an open, glass-faced living room. The house contains many sustainable aspects, including solar panels and brise-soleil on the west-facing windows. Completed in 2011, the home won a 2013 AIA Distinguished Building Award. When another client desired better access to the outside, Wheeler Kearns designed Orchard Willow with a three-sided glass first level, connecting to the home’s private gardens. Recessed balconies on the upper-level bedrooms with light-refracting copper panels allow people to see out, but not in. The home won a 2014 AIA Distinguished Building Award, a 2014 MCA Chairman’s Award, and a 2015 North American Copper in Architecture Award.

Burns and Beyerl Architects

Gary Beyerl
Edward Twohey

Chicagoland Real Estate Forum Gold Key Award,
Luxe Interiors and Design’s Gold List

1010 S. Wabash, Chicago, IL 60605

About Burns and Beyerl Architects

This firm specializes in high-end single-family residences — from urban townhouses to lakefront cottages — with a focus on sustainable practices. Gary Beyerl, AIA, co-founded the firm in 1993 with his now-retired partner Steven Burns. He was joined by Edward Twohey, AIA, in 1994, who was named principal five years later. In 2011, the firm won a Gold Key Award from the Chicagoland Real Estate Forum for their design of a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Chicago home. They are currently working on a LEED Platinum Home. In 2017, the firm made the Luxe Interiors and Design’s Gold List, a guide of architects, designers, and home builders whose projects were featured in the magazine.

Featured Projects

Burns and Beyerl transformed a 1,400-square-foot condo into a pied-à-terre. Found in the high-end Gold Coast area, the firm made many smart updates to this edgy apartment, including a home automation system. Movable panels separate the kitchen from the larger living space and divide the open bedrooms into suites. Doors leading to bedrooms, bathrooms, and closets are all integrated in a circulation sequence, tied into a paneled hall. The firm proved they can work from modern to classic with their single-family residence known as the Classic Georgian. Inspired by Georgian homes in London, this stately home features a brick façade, using an English bond pattern. Inside, an elliptical stairwell joins the home’s four levels. The home was built for the Middlefork luxury Home Builders based in the Loop. It won an AIA Citation of Merit in 2016.

Becker Architects

Richard Becker
Nancy Becker

AIA Chicago Design Awards,
Highland Park’s Historic Preservation Commission Awards

595 Elm Place, Highland Park, Chicago, IL 60035

About Becker Architects

Founded in 1982 by Principal Richard Becker, AIA, LEED AP and Nancy Becker, AIA, the award-winning firm has worked on rehabs, additions, and new construction projects throughout the Chicago metropolitan area and the US. They’ve received numerous awards and notes in publications such as AIA Chicago, the Driehaus Foundation, Remodeling, Chicago Home, Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, and Traditional Home. The firm has also been featured in a number of HGTV productions, including the 13-week reality series Dream House. With a focus on preservation, the firm has also received many awards from Highland Park’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Featured Projects

Becker’s intensive rehab project known as “High Above Chicago” is a 3,400-square-foot apartment found in a downtown high-rise, with stunning view of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. The condo opened up the tightly compartmentalized space, merging the living and dining room areas. Lacquered doors separate the master bedroom from the living room, allowing the master suite free access to the main living space. Another high-rise unit — a penthouse this time — was double the size of the other rehab at 6,800 square feet. With glass in all directions and a wrap-around terrace, Becker Architects designed a complete remodel, from plumbing to cabinetry. The penthouse was listed at just under $4.5M in 2016.

Studio Dwell

Mark Peters

AIA Design Awards,
Architectural Record Awards,
Congress for New Urbanism Grand Prize

1135 N California Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622

About Studio Dwell

Studio Dwell is a Chicago-based, full-service architecture firm that is dedicated to the use of simple forms and light to produce quality designs. The studio’s custom design homes have won awards from Builder Magazine, AIA, Architectural Record, and Residential Architect Magazine, among others. The firm recently won the Congress for New Urbanism Grand Prize for their contribution to a neighborhood development in Detroit. Studio Dwell was founded in 2005 by Principal Mark Peters, AIA, who previously worked for prestigious firms such as Pappageorge Haymes and Hartshorne Plunkard. Peters received a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Featured Projects

Urban 24, which received a Citation of Merit from AIA in 2015, was a residential infill project. The new row-house filled in a gap within a line of existing homes built in the 1890s in the West Loop. Studio Dwell was able to build an innovative new space without disturbing its neighbors. One of the biggest concerns of any row-house is light sources. The firm used skylights, vertical open rooms, and transparent walls and floors to allow natural light to filter through the home. One AIA judge called these solutions “very sensitive to the site.” Light was also influential for Studio Dwell’s planning of a custom home known as Bucktown Three. The firm designed a vertically and horizontally open space enveloped by white masonry to move light throughout. The design won the studio a 2012 Citation of Merit from AIA Chicago, as well as a Builder’s Choice Award from Builder Magazine.

Kipnis Architecture and Planning

Nathan Kipnis

Chicago Magazine Green Award,
Natural Home Magazine Home of the Decade

1642 Payne Street, Evanston, IL 60201

About Kipnis Architecture and Planning (KAP)

Kipnis Architecture and Planning were among the first firms to sign the AIA’s 2030 Challenge, which calls for all new buildings, developments, and major renovations to be carbon-neutral by 2030. They are best known for their exceptional sustainability efforts, while taking overall excellence in design just as seriously. They work on new construction with modern designs to sensitively rehabilitating historic homes. The firm was founded in 1993 by Nathan Kipnis, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a LEED Advanced Professional certified in Building Design and Construction (LEED AP BD&C), who earned a Master of Architecture with an emphasis in Energy Conscious Design from Arizona State University. He serves as the co-chair AIA National 2030 Commitment Working Group, as well as the Citizens Greener Evanston group. Among other notables, The firm’s designs have won the Chicago Magazine Green Award and Home of the Decade by Natural Home Magazine.

“Near where I grew up, along the North Shore of Chicago, there are amazing homes designed by everyone from David Adler to Frank Lloyd Wright. Many of the homes located right along the lake on Sheridan Road are textbook examples of great European homes mixed in with the very first Prairie homes designed by Wright. In addition, there are also various contemporary designs. My parents would occasionally drive into Chicago and we would occasionally travel along Sheridan Road to get there. I would be glued to the window watching these great homes.
Later, the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and ensuing Middle East oil embargo opened my eyes about America’s dependence on foreign oil. I felt that designing energy-efficient buildings would help decrease our reliance on that volatile energy source.” – Nathan Kipnis

Featured Projects

Kipnis designed one of the first LEED Platinum homes in Illinois in 2011. The two-story found in Glencoe, Illinois was completed at 40 percent of the cost of the state’s first LEED Platinum home. The design won a Blue Ribbon Award from Friends of the Chicago River, and a Glencoe Historic Preservation Award. A North Center 2.8k-square-foot, three-bedroom residence was designed to exceed net-zero standards. This four-level net positive home produces electric power using solar panels and the garage has electric car chargers. It’s a nature lover’s paradise, with reclaimed local wood and a sunlit mudroom overlooking a large backyard. The home recently sold for $1.07M.

“What my firm attempts to do with as many projects as possible is to incorporate “green” principles at as many stages as possible. The earlier in the process the better. We try to do this in an integrated way, as opposed to “tacking on” green technologies and materials.
At the beginning of the project, I try to see what design decisions make the most sense in terms of sustainable design and in response to the projects specific goals. If there is a solution that I feel works to satisfy both, I pursue it in detail. There is usually a single overall theme that unifies a design. Finding it is really the challenge. If I can get that one big idea to solve the project’s key problem and make it work sustainably, it usually can be done in an economical way and helps the client support it. To me, designing a sustainable project is an opportunity to make the pure design even better and have more meaning. It should not be a burden to design that way.” – Nathan Kipnis

Booth Hansen

Laurence Booth

AIA Design Awards

333 South Desplaines Street, Suite 100, Chicago, IL 60661

About Booth Hansen

Established in 1980, Booth Hansen’s projects include commercial, cultural, educational, multi-family, and single family designs. The firm has received over 90 design awards, including 36 from AIA. Principal and founder Laurence Booth, FAIA, leads the conceptual development of all the firm’s projects. With degrees from MIT, Harvard, and Stanford, Booth has maintained close ties to the academic study of architecture and engineering. He is a clinical professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Richard C. Halpern/Rise International Distinguished Architect in Residence at Northwestern University. Previously, he also served as a visiting professor for Harvard, the University of California, Berkeley, and University of Illinois.

Featured Projects

Their Beverly Shores residence received a 2014 AIA Chicago Distinguished Building Honor Award, as well as the Grand Award for Best Custom Home at the 2016 Gold Nugget Awards sponsored by Builder Magazine. Found in the dunes on the south side of Lake Michigan, this two-story home is mostly glass, connecting to its natural environment. The 4,200-square-foot home occupies only nine percent of the property, leaving over 76 percent of the site undisturbed dune grass and woodlands. Its sustainable focus doesn’t end there, however. The residence uses a geothermal ground source heat pump, in-slab radiant heating, and high-efficiency forced air for a low-carbon footprint. The firm’s Urban Beach House received an AIA Chicago Distinguished Building Award in 2015. Located on a rare private beach property in Chicago, the residence utilizes its unique blend of urban dwelling with beach getaway. It maximizes lakefront views on all three levels, with a glass and steel transparent back side.

Searl Lamaster Howe Architects

Pam Lamaster, AIA

AIA Chicago Distinguished Building Honor Award, Builder Magazine Grand Award

500 N Dearborn Street, Suite 1050, Chicago, IL 60654

About Searl Lamaster Howe Architects

This prestigious firm has been featured in Architectural Digest, CS Interiors, Dwell, Elle Décor, and Custom Home, among other publications. Their designs have earned several awards from AIA and the Grand Design Award for Renovation Project from Custom Home. Searl Lamaster Howe Architects uses intense collaboration with their clients to produce quality custom designs. Primarily a designer of single-family residences, the firm’s portfolio also includes commercial and institutional projects. Since 2007 the firm has been led by Pam Lamaster, AIA and Greg Howe AIA LEED AP. Their recent activity includes a contemporary interpretation of the Shingle Style for a new house on Glencoe’s lakefront, the renovation of a landmark public bathhouse into a residence in the Ukranian Village, and a contribution to the 2017 Chicago Architectural Biennial. The firm is a certified Female Business Enterprise (FBE) at the state level and Women Business Enterprise (WBE) in Chicago.

Featured Projects

Their Asbury Residence, located in Evanston, received an AIA Citation of Merit in 2016. The design’s roots stems from the client’s request for a blend of contemporary yet traditional Mediterranean design. The stucco-clad house is based on a 1920s Italian theme and brings in modern minimalism with an open interior wrapping around a central courtyard. The firm’s 2016 Eastwood Residence was featured in CS Interiors, who called it a “light-filled dream home.” Located in Lincoln Square, the four-bedroom home is closely nestled between other properties, making privacy a main concern. The contemporary home’s floor-level glass front brings in lots of natural light, while relying on detached brick walls to protect the dweller’s privacy.