Living in an architecturally historic community, one will see renovation taking place everywhere. And what does the historic governing board of a historic village love to see?… Returning to original.
The 239 S. Grove, in Oak Park, was a beautiful CV (Charming Victorian) lovingly cared for by my friend and client, Susan and her husband. The exterior was stucco and you could tell that the stucco was most likely NOT the original siding. The interior was full of some of the most beautiful woodwork I have ever seen. There was no central air… no fancy kitchen… no new baths (it only had one!!!)… but the character inside this rather small Oak Park home was like no other I had seen in the past 15 years of residential real estate.
Look at the house (above) after the stucco has been stripped off. The original clapboard (most likely cedar) appears to be in fantastic condition. Before tearing off an added covering on an old house like stucco or asphalt shingles, a contractor would tell you to to estimate needing to replace about 700-1000 linear ft. of the original cedar (for a house of this size). Take a close look at the far right side of the home’s front porch. (click on the photo for a larger image) See that black wall? That is not original to the house. That “addition” was done not long after the original build date of the home. It is actually built over what was originally that section of the front wrap-around porch. The very small addition was to provide for a large cedar coat closet on the inside of the house. Crazy, huh?
In 2013 the home was purchased by a young couple and Susan moved closer to work in the city. And then, as I often drive by this area of Oak Park because my kids are in the middle-school near by… I started noticing something. The CV was being transformed from a charming Victorian to a Victorian farmhouse reborn. The new owners painstakingly worked the home from one stage of restoration to another. And look what they did, Susan!!! Beautiful.
In Oak Park & River Forest… we have old homes. And I am always sooooo fascinated by how a homeowner and/or their designer can blend the modern luxury features we crave today with the 100+ year old house they own. Sometimes… I see it go oh so seriously wrong. The hot-tub in the basement? You know… in the basement that holds your heat boiler and pipes? That basement that is unfinished and never meant to be finished and then in the middle is… this hot-tub!! Wrong.
I have this new house (new listing of an OLD house) on the market and this owner just … everything they did to this house… they did RIGHT! Sure it is my job to boast about my client’s homes and tell the buying community “how awesome is this home?” But I just had to show you photos of this 900 Columbian so you can see for yourself. The home is a NW Oak Park classic meaning there are a number of these lighter brick center entrance Colonials in this particular area of the Mann School district. I’m not talking about the dark red brick Colonials that are another staple in this area. I am talking about the Colonials that have that touch of Mediterranean influence in them. You know them if you see them… ornate concrete forms on the exterior… arched windows… not your usual Colonial layout. It is almost as if these specific Colonials were the transitional tests for the full-blown Spanish Revival architecture Colonials that we also have in this area. The 900 Columbian has very little of this Spanish-ness to it but there are hints.
Anyway… I banter…
So take a look at these photos of the more traditional rooms in the 900 Columbian. The sunken living room is so bright and beautiful.
(This photo was taken by Christina Frances a most awesome photographer for VHT.)
(This photo by: Me… Steve Scheuring)
Transition through the classic grand entryway and into the formal dining room with perfect custom lighting touches. And look at the sun pouring through these windows! How can you not be happy with all that vitamin D!!
(Photo by: Christina Frances of VHT)
And look at these arched French doors that separate the dining room from the formal entry foyer! Original… unpainted… amazing.
(Photo by: Me… Steve Scheuring)
But look what you find when you enter the kitchen. It is new as of 2011. Is it modern? Absolutely not! Is it beautiful and does it fit this home? The white marble. The custom cabinetry painted and NOT just one color! The subway back-splash. Price the home well and it is a kitchen like this that can be the reason a home sells. My client built this kitchen to cook and bake with her child. What better reason is there to build a kitchen like this? My wife Julie and I re-did our kitchen almost ten years ago and there is no better end to the day then coming home knowing a great meal is waiting for the two of us to prepare. No better snowy Saturday than seeing your daughter baking on her own. No better anytime than seeing Julie and the kids making something in the kitchen… from scratch. Do you need a $70,000 kitchen to have these everlasting memories? Certainly not. But if you are renovating a kitchen and you plan that kitchen with this vision in mind… no matter the budget… I really do not think you can go wrong.
(Photo by: Christina Frances of VHT)
(Photo by: Me)
If you know me or this blog you know I am all about the details. So a homeowner has created this masterpiece of a home. It is classic vintage with all the upgrades you could want. Beautiful new kitchen, zoned central HVAC, water prevention systems and the master bath even has a steam shower! But what did they leave? What details did they look at when they were renovating and say… “How can we save that?… How can we incorporate that into are new vision ’cause that needs to stay!!?” The 900 Columbian again impresses. The below crystal door hardware with what looks to be brass back plates remains as originally built throughout the home.
Bathrooms… I think renovating a bathroom in a classic home is one of the hardest tasks when it comes to preserving the details set in the home when it was originally built. The trends pressure us to go ultra modern, high tech, bright and new! But an ultra mod or new looking bath can really throw the balance of a beautifully vintage home. So what can be done? Do you have an old vintage bath? What can you save in this bath that can keep the character of the home yet still offer you a fantastic new place for everyday use, comfort and luxury?
Take a look at what the owners of the 900 Columbian did with one of the 2nd floor full baths. They replaced the plumbing fixtures, retiled the floor and kept this beautiful wall tile with unique gold accented accent tiles. Is it the most amazing update bath job in the world? Did it cost a fortune? No but is it fun? Is it cheerful? Yes!! I loved this bath and this tile so much I had to get a detailed shot.
Now take a look at this 1st floor half bath photo above. How awesome is this bath?!?!?! Are you sitting there saying, “Really, Steve?!?!? I can’t stand it!!” Ok… I get it. I show these vintage homes all the time. And the reactions to the original vintage tiles in the baths is one of the funnest parts of my job. You either love it or want to rip it out! I love it. It is dramatic, bold, completely functional and in amazing condition. I wouldn’t touch this bath. Look what the owner did. The owner completely played off the darker original tile and just ran with it to the deep edges of darkness. Black trim, black walls, deep purple fabric… Awesome!
Vintage homes are not for everybody. And for many who love vintage homes the love stops at the front door and they cannot wait to rip out the entire inside. The 900 Columbian is about keeping the vintage and adding the new where you can. As of the writing of this post the 900 Columbian is under contract and scheduled to close in March of 2014.
You want to sell your home. You or your agent comes in… takes some pictures… makes note of the home’s features… and then throws it on the multiple listing service. Heck! those photos may even be by a professional photographer showing your beautiful rooms and lush green and flowering exterior. But is that enough to separate you from all the other homes that got tossed on the multiple listing service that day? You’ve visited sites like Trulia or Realtor.com… You know how fast you rip through those house photos. What is going to separate you from every other Victorian or Bungalow or Colonial on the market and on those sites?! You (really it is your agent’s job) need to find something in your home that stands out.
It is my belief that every single home has something special to photographically showcase. Take a look at the very top door knob photo. (Those of you who subscribe to this blog by email need to click the actual link to view the whole blog. Sorry, WordPress has no fix for this yet.) The one with all the very intricate details. This was the inside original knob for the homes main front door. It was tiny! Maybe an inch and a half diameter at most. But when I put this house on the market the clicks I tracked to that photo were unbelievable. Higher than any other.
Original glass door knob in the colonial at 1140 Edmer, Oak Park.
Everything starts with the multiple listing service. After some unspecified number of hours that data and all the photos that go with your home will get catapulted out to other websites like Zillow, Trulia, ChicagoTribune.com, Homes.com and more!!… (If your agent pays for that extra special marketing.) I preach over and over… “Everything needs to be perfect and completely ready for the moment the listing enters the multiple listing service. The MLS is the catalyst that starts the show… creates the hype… creates ‘the legend’… and ultimately brings the buyer or maybe… buyers.
I like to use door knobs and simple hardware when I list a property. Knobs are easy to shoot as they are at an easy tripod level. And I am not sure why but even in the most simple plain homes I have found beautiful intricate door knobs. I think that if a home has been altered over the years the door hardware is something that hardly ever gets replaced. Look at the above wooden door knob found only on the 2nd floor of an Oak Park grand Victorian. Builders often spent the money on precious metals like bronze and brass for the 1st floor where the guests would enter. Look at the door knob plate behind the wood knob. This is some form of “pot metal” which was just a mixture of whatever metals the metal-smith or caster had available.
It isn’t just door knobs that can be showcased. Get up close and personal with other details in the house. Above is a tile surround on a Victorian fireplace. This particular tile was most likely made by the American Encaustic Tiling Co. out of Zanesville, Ohio. (c.1891) (see TileHeritage.org) I rarely see these but when I do they are front and center in the home’s marketing. The photo shot needs to be up close and dramatic. Remember, try to be different and catch the eye of the buyer on the internet. “Click” optimization!!
This art-glass window in a South Oak Park home on Kenilworth showed great. Art-glass windows can be difficult to shoot for even the most experienced enthusiast photographers. The bright outdoor sunlight behind the glass and a dark interior will require some post processing.
Some homes are so full of details to shoot you don’t even know where to begin. This was the case for one of my favorite sales… 239 S. Grove, Oak Park. This Farmhouse Victorian was certainly not original on the outside with it’s years of stucco over the original clapboard but the inside had so much amazing woodwork and added detail. Even little stuff like this bronze sun face on the stair’s newel post.
Remember, there is more to showcasing a home in this digital age than just a bunch of room photos. Get creative! There are details in your home you take for granted everyday. Details that some buyer is going to absolutely love. Stop. Look. Try to view these details as a more macro photograph on a website that is showcasing your home. Now experiment with the photography and post processing. Go get the attention of those buyers!
That’s right… I just quoted Yoda from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Well, Yoda said “nine hundred years” not “122” but still… the point is made. Our houses are old! You buy this Victorian built in the late 1800’s or even a brick Colonial built in the 1920’s or 30’s… and the first thing you want to do is start making it look … grand again. Some go about doing that by just gutting the entire place and starting with a clean slate. That is absolutely fine. Did you take the time to stop and look around at what the house has to give you before you do that gut rehab? The homes hardware is the first place I always start.
Our 1891 Oak Park Victorian had drawers built in the closets when we bought the home in 2000. We are only the 3rd owner of this very old home so much was left in original condition or… painted over. The drawers in the closets were made of very inferior grade pine. They were falling apart just looking at them! But we immediately took note of the drawer pulls and saved all we could find. (photo above of original drawer pulls as we found them in 2000)
Then, in 2005 when we decided to renovate our kitchen we knew exactly what pulls were going to go the Amish cabinets. The pulls are not made of any special metal no fancy brass or pewter. They are most likely pot metal. Pot metal was an inexpensive melding of whatever metals were available at the time. The metal had a low melting point so it was easy to form. Here is how the pulls turned out.
After removing any paint with a chemical stripper I usually put the hardware on a 6″ bench grinder fitted with a wire wheel. This takes off any remaining tarnish especially on the solid brass. Now, purists would not like this method of restoration. That’s OK… I am not a purist.
You have to be careful when grinding the hardware. You do NOT want to use the wire wheel on the grinder for things covered in years of paint. You must remove the paint with a liquid or gel stripper solution first. Grinding the paint off creates paint dust and the paint could contain lead. Unfortunately, the same goes for the pot metal. The pot metal is an unknown mixture of metals and could contain small quantities of lead. You need to wear proper eye protection and a dust/particle mask. Some people may think it a good idea to use some form of leather glove while using the grinder. I do NOT do this as I found the gloves can get caught by the wire wheel and get pulled into the grinder. And always after grinding or stripping to the finish you like… coat the hardware in a few layers of clear lacquer before re-installing.