CHICAGO -- Resourceful city dwellers find unusual living opportunities throughout Chicago's neighborhoods. Taverns, churches, bakeries -- even a gas station -- have been transformed into distinctively urban domiciles. Such novel spaces present challenges that often foster unique results.

And so it was when Shallan and Whipple Hazlewood began looking for a home.

"I fell in love with the idea of turning an old, commercially used space into a home," said Shallan Hazlewood, 31. She had passed up a bakery because it was much too large. But when her real estate agent showed her a former four-lane bowling alley in Chicago's Lincoln Park, she knew she had found what she wanted.

"It was just four brick walls, very loft-like and it had a front and back courtyard," she said of the one-story building.

While the Hazlewoods considered the purchase, an adjacent lot became available, so they bought it, knowing it would provide a side yard and a place for a garage The Hazlewoods hired Linda Searl, an architect whom Shallan had interviewed when she was remodeling Soapstone, her Lincoln Park bath and body boutique. "I couldn't afford Linda at the time, but I've followed her work. I had seen her exhibit at the Art Institute on women architects and I liked the idea of working with a woman," she said.

The Hazlewoods, who married midway through the project, asked Searl to design a contemporary three-story home with open spaces that took advantage of the two courtyards at either end of the building. "I wanted to be able to see all the way across to the back courtyard when I walked in," Shallan said. They also knew they wanted to use the bowling lanes in some "not so obvious" way.

Searl proposed three different schemes for her clients to consider. "In each case the stair became a focal point," she said. "In one scheme the stair ran up the east wall, in one it ran up the west wall and then in this scheme the stair turned perpendicular" to the main floor.

"The most compelling trait of the chosen scheme is that it allowed us to create a grand gesture that unifies the upper two floors with the existing space," Searl said. "The stair became the focal point of the house," said Greg Howe, the project architect.

"The stair is sculptural. We wanted to be able to see through it, yet we wanted it to have a big impact," said Whipple Hazlewood, 27, a partner in Reed Partners, a commercial real estate services firm specializing in tenant representation.

At the base of the stairs is a large plinth made of bowling-alley wood separating the living room from the dining-kitchen-family room area. The framework of the staircase is cut from a single piece of steel. The stair treads and landings are made of bowling-alley flooring.

Cladding the stair tower is cement board fastened with steel bolts and gasketed washers.

"The staircase also links the house to the side garden that recognizes the luxury of such an exterior space in a dense urban neighborhood," Searl said. Across from the base of the stairs are French doors leading to the side yard. Continuing along the east wall are four more pairs of French doors allowing natural light to flood the interior.

Searl paid homage to the building's heritage by hanging panels of maple and pine alley material from the first-floor ceiling. "It was important to recall the linear concept of what this used to be," Searl said. "The lanes became the circulation space through the house." On the second level, the same material is reused as flooring in the alley-like hallway.

Another reference to the building's origin is the choice of commercial and industrial materials. The French doors as well as the front and back windows are storefront systems. A 38-foot-high wall of commercial glass forms the east wall opposite the three-story stair tower. The cement board is commonly used in industrial structures. Kalwall, a fiberglass panel seen in warehouses in the home's immediate neighborhood, is used in the window openings of the original facade and the fencing of the side yard. And patinated zinc is used on the exterior of the second level of the east elevation The interior, done by Shallan, who learned a lot about design from her interior-designer mother, has a warm, residential feel to it, Searl said.

Floors on the first floor as well as in the second-floor bedrooms are 10-inch-wide distressed oak planks stained black, making a nice contrast to the bowling-alley maple.

Given the contemporary lines of the architecture, Shallan chose a mix of art and furniture that makes the couple feel at home. In the living room, she chose a modernist L-shaped couch paired with four armchairs. She covered those pieces with gray wool flannel and added colorful pillows and art, and accessories acquired on their honeymoon last year in South Africa. For the more casual family room, she grouped three sofas upholstered in red wool flannel around the media center.

While the first floor is protected from the street with opaque windows and fencing, the second-floor windows and rooftop terraces reveal panoramic views of the downtown skyline and the nearby elevated train. "I want to enjoy the fact that we're in the city rather than pretend that we're not," Shallan said.

Kitchen bar stools made of steel line a maple countertop at the home of Shallan and Whipple Hazlewood. The home formerly was a bowling alley.