The New Intentional Community: Multimillion Dollar Communes in Chicago

We went searching for spacious Chicago houses suitable for at least 25 people living together in an “intentional living” arrangement and found some humongous possibilities.

Photo by: Baird & Warner From room to room, the design plan of this 14,000-square-foot River North home remixes styles and palettes.

For starters, forget the cliche of the "tune in, turn on, drop out" Hippie compounds of the Woodstock generation. (As an aside, it's not well known that before co-founding Apple, Steve Jobs had an experimental phase living in a commune.) Scratch the typical three-generation homes of a bygone era where your grandparents, uncles, aunts and all the kids camped under one rowdy roof. Neither are we talking about bread-baking monks or rent-splitting grad students on a Ramen-noodle budget or survivalists living off the grid in the boonies.

Imagine instead, full-fledged communes in the big city. As an example, there's the Reba Place Fellowship in Rogers Park.  Although re-branded as “intentional living” – also known as co-housing, eco-villages and cooperative living – what sets an intentional community apart from a house full of roomies are these (loosely) shared characteristics: Members agreed to work for the group, share in decision making, share all resources and all property, and pool 100 percent of their income into a "common purse," according to Bill Metcalf's seminal book Shared Visions, Shared Lives. That last bit is a deal-breaker for some. Yes, you pool all your money.

It's a far cry from the nuclear family, definitely unconventional – controversial, even. Check. But let's suppose you decided to try the concept on for size. To live like this, in this city, you need space for all those bodies and personality zones. You need a house that's worth the experiment. And what's wrong with a few niceties to take the edge off? Before you get sticker shock or mutter “commune and millions is an oxymoron,” know that the small sample of ginormous houses in Chicago that fit our must-haves weren't cheap. Play along with our intentional living house hunt, the Luxe version. 

Whether you go luxe or scaled down, sharing quarters with even the best of friends can trip the cabin fever switch. We don't want to gloss over this. There's pros and cons of intentional communities, of course. But we found that adapting to communal spaces where all your stuff becomes the shared property of everyone – this was the number one complaint of intentional living arrangements and a breeding ground for a reality-TV-sized conflict.

You can find out more about intentional living at the Fellowship for Intentional Community website, and the book Communities Directory: A Comprehensive Guide to Intentional Communities and Cooperative Living.

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