Making something out of nothing | Sponsored | The Lytle House (sponsored advertising) | Chicago Reader

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COURTESY THE LYTLE HOUSE
  • courtesy The Lytle House

Shortly after their wedding in 2015, Michelle and Robyn started making plans.

After living in Edgewater for two years, they dreamt of finding a home that would provide both business and living space, room to accommodate the wedding photographers’ career dreams and the family they knew they wanted to create together. One day, out on a run together, they passed a unique building with a tall chain link fence blocking its 65ft concrete pull-in from the bustling Broadway sidewalk. Securing the property took almost nine months in total, but the moment the ink dried on the paperwork, the couple set to work on The Lytle House.

Over the course of a year, the property was completely transformed. The concrete at the front of the property was removed, allowing for the design of over 1600 square feet of curated green space and a variety of plants and trees. With professional landscape lighting and hidden speakers, this portion of the space is breathtaking, a hidden retreat in the midst of a bustling city.

The original garage door was swapped with a full glass replacement and custom steel wheel to crank it open. As much as possible, Michelle and Robyn wanted to maintain the features and layout of the original building, keeping the existing free flowing space while commemorating the building’s past. The back half of the building is full of character and dates back 100 years; they replaced the partially boarded-up and obstructed windows lining the south wall, cleaning and white washing the exposed brick. Simple, minimalist choices were made to accentuate the beauty that already existed.

The space is for them, but it’s also for their clients. Over the 15 plus years Michelle and Robyn have been photographing weddings, they’ve attracted a specific type of couple. Michelle describes it as, “People who wanted us to capture, not create. Couples who wanted to have an intimate celebration. Who wanted ‘I dos’ without ado. No large wedding parties. Ceremony on site. Less formality, more… focus.”

When it came time to design the studio portion of their home, it was these focused celebrations that they kept in mind. Michelle and Robyn created a space that would appeal to people with simple, intimate, and unconventional tastes, doing everything they could to streamline planning for both themselves and clients.

Three years and another daughter later, as their small space took off, they brainstormed ways to connect their business even more directly with the Edgewater community around them. After all, it wasn’t uncommon to see familiar couples and former clients on a walk around the neighborhood.

Each of their previous entrepreneurial endeavors had an element of giving back, from free pet portraits for senior dogs to raising over $40,000 for womens’ health organizations, so they wanted to expand on that history with The Lytle House.

The idea for an art initiative stemmed from repetitive graffiti on the couples’ front fence. Eventually, Michelle installed a portrait of Dolly Parton, 10 feet by 10 feet, staring out across Broadway. Between that and their Kites Over Edgewater mural, they began to realize how much positive energy public art generated, and they decided to create The Lytle House Art Initiative.

The Initiative is funded with a portion of their event bookings, and with Michelle doing the design work herself, they are able to stretch the investment further by only incurring costs at install. After the artwork is approved by the building owner, they send out a bid to three artists. This process has allowed them to install art at a record pace. At the end of last year, they installed nine pieces over the course of three months, with 20 buildings still available to accept art.

They’re currently raising money for a large mural to be installed on the side of a nearby school. COVID-19 has caused some clients to reschedule or adjust bookings, but with an open-air venue and a small capacity, The Lytle House is lucky to be relatively pandemic-friendly. More than anything, as their family continues to grow in their community, Michelle and Robyn look forward to covering Edgewater in bright, vibrant artwork and bringing joy into the lives of their neighbors.
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