Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Final house reveal begins!

Chickens, my dearest darlingest chickens, I have the best possible news.

The house?  She is finished.  Done, finis, fin, stick a fork in her, and in us.  Four years and three months of dust and debris and never really being alone in our home, and we survived!

We could not be more delighted and are thrilled to announce that this year we won Preservationists of the Year from the Logan Square Preservation Society for our work on the home, a humbling validation of this project.

So I will be devoting the coming posts to introducing you to our freshly refurbished old girl, room by room.  There is no way to capture all of what the house has become in one post, not without losing the details, so I thought the best way to handle it would be to go floor by floor, so that you are taking the grand tour in manageable bits.

Today we begin at the beginning…

This is the vestibule.  The tile floor, marble wainscoting, and plaster crown molding are all original to the building.  To the left of the Italian Arts and Crafts hall tree is where there used to be a door to access the upper apartments.  Luckily for us, our tile guy was able to carefully remove the marble from behind where the hall tree now is and shift it over when we eliminated that door, so it looks seamless! Above the little settee are the original speaking tubes, one of which is reconnected and actually can talk to the wine cellar!

This is the foyer with the new entry closet which was carved out when we changed the stairs to enter into the living room instead of the vestibule.  Both Charming Suitor and I have an insane volume of outerwear, because, Chicago.  So having this generous front closet is a godsend.  The pier mirror was salvaged from another local building from the same era, and fits right in!  Almost everyone thinks it is original, which is what we love.

As you all know, when I fell in love with this building in 1993, I had no control over it being a three-flat.  CS would have much preferred a two-flat, but the “extra” floor allowed us to do two things that now we wouldn’t have wanted any different.  The first was giving us this first level to be devoted to formal entertaining space.  You know how much we love to host, and this allows us to do so at scale and without impinging on our day-to-day living.  We can have a big party down here, and then disappear back upstairs and put the first floor back together at our leisure and not feel like we are having breakfast in the detritus of a party.   The second is that it allowed us to create a private bedroom level with no public spaces, more on that in a future post.

This first level is comprised of the formal living room, dining room, library, large and small butler’s pantries, prep kitchen, bathroom and powder room.

This is the formal living room.  

I loved pulling this room together.  The color on the walls is Sherwin-Williams Hearts of Palm, a soothing celery green color that brightens the space and provides a great backdrop for the art and deeper colors of the furniture and rugs.  The armoire was the first major piece of furniture CS and I bought together, on a trip to New Orleans, and it holds much of my entertaining equipment, and a ton of table linens and the like.  The furniture is mostly consignment store and flea market finds, all beautifully reupholstered.  Our pal Gregg Fishman at Fishman’s fabrics was always on deck to help up find the perfect textiles for every project, and everything you see in this room from the furniture to pillows to window treatments all came off the bolts at Fishman’s.  Our soft-goods guru Beth Laske-Miller was in charge of doing the hard part, thank goodness!  I can’t sew to save my life and my upholstery skills are remedial at best.  Beth gave much of the furniture new life, dressed up all our windows, and CS dubbed her our personal pillow purveyor!  The light fixtures were originally giant lampshades that we converted to pendants.

This is the library.  

For me, it serves two essential functions.  One, it houses the magical collections of words.  I haven’t yet been able to really get in here and organize them, it is a major project that I will tackle eventually.  But they are all here with room for more, which makes me super happy.  Second, it provides a lovely ante-room for the bathroom.  I have a personal pet peeve about bathrooms that open into dining spaces.  The entrance to the bathroom was originally in the hallway, but when we reconfigured the dining room, it would have essentially opened right up on the table!  So we moved the entrance into the library so that guests have that extra bit of privacy, and anyone waiting for their turn has a nice place to sit.  We found the antique light fixture online, and CS was a rock star installing my collection of vintage Florentine gilded wood trays on the ceiling for an unexpected pop of interest.

I love this bathroom.  

It is so over the top, the colors are so saturated, the space is just crazypants in a great way.  The sink was the starting point, a gorgeous brass art nouveau piece called Lilies Lore from Kohler, and the custom marble tilework is all New Ravenna, found for us by our tile magician Rachel at Fine Line Tile.  The wall color is Oceana from Sherwin-Williams, in a high gloss finish.  The vanity was an antique dresser gifted us by dear friends.  Who says bathrooms have to be boring?

This is the dining room...

The dining room is the first room I ever really imagined in a new configuration when I moved in 25 years ago.  The built-in china hutch was just a staggering piece of craftsmanship, and knowing that it had a twin on the second floor got me dreaming of a long dining room flanked by the two.  In order to achieve this dream, we absorbed what used to be the master bedroom in this unit into the exisiting dining room, and removed the second china hutch from upstairs and reinstalled it opposite it's brother.  The table we had to have custom made, since 18 feet is a lot more than you can find at your local furniture store. Thank god for the Amish!  They have big families and recognize the need to seat everyone at one table.  It also allowed us to have the table made on the narrow side, since while the room is verrrry long, it isn’t terribly wide.  The table is actually just a 6 foot table with 12 one-foot leaves, so it is very flexible in terms of seating.  You might also notice the mismatched chair collection.  The table seats 24, and frankly, I think a giant table like this with 24 matching chairs would look a lot like a conference room.  So we have gathered pairs and sets to suround the table, all wood base with some upholstery, all the same general height.  Once we find all of the right ones, (some of these are not really perfect or as comfortable as we want) we will have Beth reupholster them in matching fabric.  The color is Obstinate Orange by Sherwin-Williams in high gloss, and while it reads a bit red in these pics due to lighting, in real life it is a deep true orange and a totally energizing color.  The tray ceiling is a burnished metallic gold from Benjamin Moore to reflect the light from the chandeliers with a warm glow.  The chandeliers themselves CS found at Columbus Architectural Salvage on a business trip to Ohio, and they were originally installed in a private Catholic school in the 1890s.  We love the drama of them!

And no, before you ask, CS and I have not had dinner at opposite ends of it a la War of the Roses!

This is the large butler's pantry.

This room was originally a small back bedroom that over the years served as everything from a guest room to an office to kitchen storage.  Needing as much storage for entertaining gear as possible, we converted it to a large butler’s pantry, bar and buffet.  We can use it to stage for parties, serve buffet style, and be the main bar.  But the pocket doors mean we can close it off if we aren't using it for an event.  The wall color is a favorite of mine, Black Fox by Sherwin-Williams, I think it looks like really good dark chocolate, and we extended it into the small original butler's pantry and kitchen.  The pocket doors our contractor made from regular doors that were original to the building, and he made the transom out of scrap trim.  It looks totally original!

This is the small butler’s pantry that is original to the building.  

The sink is also original, we just reconnected it to the plumbing so that it is functional again!  The little desk underneath is an antique salesman's sample that my grandfather gave to my grandmother as a gift, and is a good place to store hand towels and small supplies.

Powder room:

This used to be our food pantry!  I love this tiny powder room, and it is great to have a second bathroom on this floor for big parties.  The color is Perfect Gray from Sherwin-Williams.

This is the prep kitchen.  

I still have trouble believing it was my only kitchen for 23 years!  We decided against doing any cabinets other than the sink base, since we didn’t really need the storage, and wanted the room to be very usable and flexible for myself and for caterers or guest chefs.  We splurged on the Aga stove and hood, since that gave us five burners and two ovens plus a broiler.  And, I mean, COME ON!  Look at it.  Yummy.  We did the single sheet of back-painted glass as the backsplash for ease of cleaning.  We love our Blanco Sinks and faucets upstairs in the primary kitchen, so we reached back out to them to kit us out for this one.   We did a commercial three-drawer refrigeration unit, and topped it with a custom wood piece from our friend Tim.  The marble island is a treasured antique, originally the counter in a bakery in France, it has surprisingly good storage, with two small drawers and open shelving behind, and three long drawers on the side, the top one contains a bread guillotine, in case you want to buy half a baguette!  And yes, it is sharp as the dickens.  British stove aside, we have lots of French touches in this little kitchen, things we have brought back from our travels, especially our copper pots and pans.

That is the whole first floor!  Stay tuned for a trip down into the basement….

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath


  1. Love it! Love it! Love it! I've been waiting for this day since you announced you had bought the building and were going to renovate. Your prep kitchen is nicer than most of the "regular" kitchens I've had in my life. But seriously do you polish all that gorgeous silver in the china hutches and butler pantries? I broke out in a cold sweat just thinking about taking care of all that silver. I'm considering painting one of my guest bathrooms in that lovely blue from your 1st floor bath. Can't wait to see the rest of the house including the basement! P.S. I bet Nathan F would like a dinner invite to see the new digs.

  2. Amazing work --- congratulations! I can't wait to see the rest. Now that you're finished, I'm sure you have plenty of free time so come to NJ to help me with my renovation!