Historic Renovation

This century-old Chicago rowhouse gets modern living and entertainment areas. The project, whose goal was to improve form and function, required design and construction know-how to work within a historical context.

June 30, 2008
Historic Renovation
Products List
Site's Limited Access Proves to be a Challenge

The new, more spacious kitchen features abundant counter and cabinet space as well as and island with seating. The home's footprint narrows at the rear, creating a natural lightwell that ensures a bright setting for anyone working at the sink.  After photos by Kaskel Architectural Photography

It took a lot to Modernize the living and entertaining areas in this century-old Chicago rowhouse says architect and remodeler Michael Menn. The project, whose goal was to improve form and function, required not only the design and construction know-how to work within a historical context, but also a subtle and necessary measure of diplomacy to keep things on schedule and everyone happy.

"This project presented us with some interesting challenges on a number of levels," says Menn, a principal with Northbrook, Ill.-based design/build firm Design Construction Concepts, which was responsible for the historically sensitive restoration of this downtown residence (it's also a 2007 Best of the Best Design Awards winner).

Challenges included working in a very constricted, highly regulated urban environment where parking for construction and delivery vehicles was virtually non-existent (see sidebar at ProRemodeler.com); modernizing and adding volume to living areas within a space-constrained, 15-foot-wide interior footprint; and minimizing disruption for homeowners who opted to stay in the home during remodeling.

Demolition Derby

The four-story home's first and second floors were completely gutted and reconfigured so they would better suit the lifestyle of the empty-nester owners, who have adult children who often stay for extended visits. Floors, walls, ceilings, stairways, plumbing, mechanical and wiring infrastructure were all removed and replaced.


The amount of demolition took Menn and his team by surprise.

Improvements included creating a more dramatic entry; a new, high-tech media center; and a more functional utility room on the street level. Upstairs, an out-of-date and underutilized butler's pantry was replaced with an expanded, gourmet kitchen that now doubles as a family gathering center. DCC added storage to both floors and actually reduced their space requirements. Special care was taken so that all of the modern systems would remain behind the scenes once the renovation was complete.

The rear stairway to the upper floors was also eliminated, and this, combined with the other design changes, increased living space for the homeowners by 35 percent.

Original Charm Restored

All traces of non-authentic trim and moldings that had been added to the home during previous attempts to remodel its interior were removed. They were replaced with historic details selected to complement the original style of the home including molding, doors, stairway balusters, radiator covers and the fireplace surround.

"The house actually had very little plaster crown molding so we added that, doing our best to replicate the period details that you would typically find in a home of this style and era," says Menn. "No detail was too small."

In-Residence Residents

 Because the homeowners chose to stay home during renovations, the crew had to take special consideration to maintain a livable space. "With the main entrance to the house on the street level that we were working on, the reality was that the owners were constantly walking through a construction site whenever they left their home or returned to it," says Menn. "And because we were working with the lathe and plaster construction of a 100-year-old residence, things got very, very messy. Although we had warned our clients about the dust — it was everywhere — there was even more than we had anticipated. One solution, we found, was to send in cleaning crews periodically to help to keep it under control."

"Tensions did run high periodically, but we worked hard to stick to the original construction schedule we had agreed on with the clients, in order to make it as easy as possible on them," says the remodeler. "It also helped that they took several extended vacations during the project."

Room for Upgrades

The remodeling company also installed new insulation and a new roof for the home. A fourth-floor kitchenette is planned for the future to make it easier for the family when they entertain on the top-floor roof deck.

Ultimately, the home's original antique charm was restored while its owners now enjoy a more functional and modern organization for their living space, says Menn. "They were very pleased with the end result."


Historic Renovation

REMODELER AND ARCHITECT: Design Construction Concepts, Northbrook, Ill.
AGE OF HOME: 110 years old
SCOPE OF WORK: Gutting the first two levels to update living space.

Products List

Cabinets: Custom Countertops: Granite Faucets & fixtures: Chicago Faucet, Kohler, Toto Lighting fixtures: Juno Insulation: Owens Corning Kitchen appliances: Bosch, Sub-Zero, Wolf Locksets: Baldwin Paints & stains: Benjamin Moore Sinks: Blanco Millwork & molding: Custom

Site's Limited Access Proves to be a Challenge

The design details throughout the four-story home's lower two floors were carefully selected and crafted to recapture the charm of a 100-year-old home.

Working in an urban environment poses unique challenges when it comes to residential remodeling projects, says Michael Menn, principal with Design Construction Concepts in Northbrook, Ill. and this Chicago project proved to be no exception.

The remodel took place in one of the city's busiest locations. With on-street parking at a premium, construction crews found themselves hard-pressed to park their vehicles. And the Chicago police department was diligent in enforcing the city's stringent parking restrictions.

"We eventually sent several people to the project very early in the morning in order to secure the spots that we needed for that day," says Menn. "Careful scheduling made all the difference."

He also developed an open line of communication with contractors to minimize surprise deliveries. For this project, the clients had already hired their own kitchen designer, who contracted the custom construction of the cabinets.

"Not only were we unaware of the timing of the delivery, but the cabinets were built in longer-than-normal lengths, which meant that the only way to get them into the house was to remove the windows on the street elevation and hoist them up that way," he says. "With no parking available for the delivery truck on the street in front of the home, the cabinets had to be transported from a remote parking lot to the site via pickup."

Menn also stresses that communicating with neighbors helps keep a project on track. "Before we start we visit the neighbors, let them know what we're doing and provide them with our contact information should they have any concerns. We let them know that we will take care of things immediately for them."

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