Have you ever done a remodel in your home and wondered how you were going to survive the mess and chaos of everything? Well today’s Home Tour family not only remodeled an old 1950’s Ranch House into a lovely light filled space, but they did the whole thing with a 1 year old under foot!
Meet Barbara and family. Their house is gorgeous and inspiring and full of light.
My husband Chris and I met almost 7 years ago at work. He was my third interview for a position at Coldwell Banker. Thankfully I got the job! We started dating about 2 months later and the rest is history. : ) We were married in 2013 and had our son Jackson on July 2nd, 2015. Chris currently handles operations for Coldwell Banker’s Chicagoland/Indiana/Wisconsin area. I left my position as managing broker for their Evanston offices when I got pregnant with Jackson. And I’m now a stay at home Mom that works a few different jobs from home.
I got both my degrees in music, so I actually sing quite a bit locally. I have been working as a real estate broker as well, when time allows, but I have been trying to transition into working more on interior design and our own projects. Since I do not have professional training in design it has been a learn as I go type of thing. And trying lots of different things to see what works. My dream is to flip a few houses a year and do all of the design work myself and maybe help friends and family do the same.
But being with my son Jackson is always the most important thing to me, so I’m still finding the balance — I’m sure all the moms reading this can relate! The final member of our family is our new puppy ‘Hundley’, named for the Dachshund in Curious George. We lost our 11 year old Doxie last year. My son loved her and laughed and laughed at everything she did. I just couldn’t get used to the house without a dog so we got Hundley in February right as the construction was finishing. He is a lot of work — you forget how much work puppies are — but he’s a joy and he and Jackson are already best friends.
Oh my gosh we LOVE this neighborhood! We fell in love with this house first but now that we’ve been living here for 9 months we realized how much we love this location and where we live. First and foremost this section of Oak Brook is 5 minutes from one of the largest outdoor malls in the country. We have every restaurant we love within just a few minute drive, and for the shopaholics out there, yes, I’m almost walking distance to Nordstrom, Macy’s, Pottery Barn — ahhhh cue the angel’s singing. Just kidding. But for ease and convenience can’t beat it.
We also connect right here to 4 major Chicago highways so it’s much easier for my husband to get where he needs to go for work and travel, and that gives us all more time together as a family. We have one of the smaller homes in the area — the Oak Brook average sale price is $850,000, and average square footage is probably about 3500 square feet. Our subdivision has one of the village’s larger parks with playgrounds, ponds, walking trails, tennis courts, basketball courts and picnic grounds. With an active almost-2-year-old boy who is obsessed with being outside it is perfect for us!
We are about 10-15 min drive from Brookfield Zoo, and just a few min drive from two other local downtown areas with lots of young families. And my parents live about 10 min away so we have some built in babysitting time with Nana every week!
This home started out a 1950’s very dark and dreary ranch on an overgrown lot that’s over 1/3 of an acre in size. It was on the market for about a year at too high of a price. People were afraid of the work needed on it I think. At least we were! It was not love at first sight. We came once and the floor plan was so odd (the dining room had a laundry closet in it just to give you some idea — who doesn’t want to wash their underwear where they eat?!) that we couldn’t really figure it out. And at that time, financially we weren’t sure we could figure out how to do that much work on a home.
We then found a different house that was a short sale. As luck would have it the home sold in a day, but as a result the short sale didn’t work out because as many people know who have gone down the bank-owned property route, the term ‘short’ is a misnomer as it relates to time. Short sales can really drag on and we were out of time!
We had not been to the 50’s ranch in about 2 months and we both kind of brought it up again at the same time and said well, let’s just take another look… The 2nd time was the charm. We suddenly saw all of it’s potential and loved it! The home was still overpriced at $450,000. We ended up getting it for what was then the appropriate land value of $395,000.
I think the neighborhood thought we would tear it down but that would have been a shame. It was such a well built home. The brick was in beautiful shape. Yes, the inside needed to be completely re-worked and taken down the to studs for the most part, but I believed it could have a new life and be beautiful again.
We were attracted to a ranch for 2 reasons. The first being personal — I was diagnosed with a postpartum onset of Rheumatoid arthritis about 9 months after my son was born. RA is an auto immune disease that attacks the joints. The home we were living in was 3 stories and I was struggling every day getting up and down the stairs holding my son. I fell several times and all the stairs were adding a stress to the day that was a bit much. So a ranch sounded heavenly! It has been really wonderful living here without stairs and added bonus I always know where Jackson is in this one story house!
The second reason for the ranch was for the investment. We live in an area where there are very few single story properties that are updated and very few properties with first floor master bedrooms but there is an increasing demand for properties like that. Since this is a family investment that my parents and I decided to put our mutual savings in and try out our flipping skills, we wanted to buy something that would be safe to sell when we were ready. Or that we could rent out if selling was not a great option at the time.
We are actually doing it all over again! Because yes we are certifiably insane. No, I’m kidding about that part, but we did just buy a very cute english tudor home that I can’t wait to get my hands on — and it’s only two blocks away! We have fallen in love with the neighborhood. but since this home was a shorter term investment we do want to sell the ranch and settle into the next home long term. It has stairs but since my son is older now and walking, running, climbing, scaling, etc., I will hopefully do better with that multi-level lifestyle. And we really needed a basement that this active almost-two-year-old can tear up.
We say it will be long term but growing up, my Mom flipped the homes we lived in and every few years we moved. So it is kind of ingrained in me — the ‘itch’ to start something new.
I would NEVER, and I really want to stress never, recommend remodeling with a 1 year old. It occurred to me once we started that my kid (like many I’m sure) will find whatever object in any room that could potentially kill him within seconds. Like he has a built in honing device to danger. Add workmen, tools, and materials to that equation and you are asking for a lot of anxiety.
Here’s how we made it work: For the first 3 months while the major renovation of the largest areas of the house were being done, we stayed at my parents and lived in the basement. I go to a MOPS (Mother’s of Preschoolers) group every other Wednesday and realized at my table there were 3 other people living with parents or in-laws, so this must be happening a lot! Temp housing is very expensive!
After the main areas were done we moved into the left side of the home while the master bathroom addition was being put on. I basically hassled, harassed and haranged every workman that came through to get them to lock the master as they went in and out. They probably hated us but it was the best way to seal off the danger as much as possible. And then on really crazy days I’d take Jackson out or to Nana’s.
It was tricky at times but we did have a general contractor we liked and trusted and I would recommend to anyone. That piece is very important, because if you don’t like a sub contractor, or something isn’t working, they can take care of it for you. It doesn’t mean everything always runs smooth but if you can find someone reliable that will answer your texts and calls quickly that’s the one to choose.
When I asked my husband about what he remembers about the remodel he said, “I wish someone would have said if a contractor says ‘yeah that’s a 3 month job’ that it really means it’s a 9 month job. And from now on we will use a multiplier.”
One of my favorite things about design is mixing a bit of “high and low.” Working in what I call ‘forever’ pieces that follow us from house to house and ‘cheap loves’ that are often the trendy cute finds of the moment. First and foremost we spend on the special stuff. I love Carrara and wanted to use it somewhere but learned it was potentially too soft for countertops so we chose the backsplash which when using only that small of an amount really isn’t so expensive. Quartz counters are what is popular in the higher end new construction here so that was our other big spend.
My general contractor says ‘cabinets are cabinets.’ He’s both succinct and right. There are very few people that will notice the difference between 18K in cabinets and 8K. And kitchens are averaging needing updates for trends every 10 years so if you amortize that 18K investment — not so great. We went to Home Depot this time around for cabinets, though for our next project I’ve priced Menards and they have Home Depot beaten significantly in price. Also, if you are ever short on time (since most take 4-6 weeks) there are lots of smaller shops out there now that have ‘stock’ cabinets. Your styles are limited because they just manufacture the same colors but if you want something simple like white, you’ll pay a lot less and not wait because delivery is closer to 1 week.
I also spend a little extra on things like the hand made open shelves in the kitchen. They are beautiful. That carpenter a hired did a gorgeous reclaimed wood wall in my last home and I love his work. They were going to hold our wedding dishes so I wanted to be sure they weren’t falling down, and as much as I love my husband he is no Bob Villa. I’m pretty sure if he had tried to install those shelves the dishes would have been the first casualty of this remodel.
Another spend that came out so lovely was the grasscloth wallpaper in both bathrooms. I went with Phillip Jeffries — you can create a designer account with them; you just have to promise not to resell the paper. Then you get free samples sent to you within a few days and can pick just the right one.
Both of the guest bathrooms were areas we did not want to spend a lot. But they needed an upping in design to fit with the rest of the house. Rather than buy expensive fixtures and change out all the plumbing or tile, we left all of that since it was neutral. We added the grasscloth which then became the ‘star’ of both bathrooms and added very inexpensive cute sconces to both, and inexpensive mirrors from Home Goods (the front bath was only $60!).
The sconces were all under $100 as well. I go to a local lighting store where I’ve asked for a designer discount account that gives me 35% off. Then I picked simple but stylish ones already on sale.
Last but not least let’s talk Etsy. It’s like an online mecca of skilled workers. We have some small carpentry shops near here but Chicago pricing isn’t very affordable. So if you want nice well built custom or wood pieces, I have found Etsy is the place to go.
The dining table had to be a very specific custom size to fit the bench and 3 chairs. The shop I found on Etsy offered to make two coordinating console tables that sit behind the couch and can be pulled up to either end to add more seats when we have people over….. the cost you ask? Including shipping I think we paid $450. As much as I love and at times, yes, drool over the Pottery Barn tables, that’s an incredible savings.
We also had an odd project for the master bath. Because of the setback for building in our neighborhood, we ended up with an oblong shape to the bath and therefore one short vanity and one longer one. We couldn’t use the same size vanity mirrors or they would have been out of proportion. I had no idea that this would be one of our biggest challenges. It’s virtually impossible to find two of the same mirror in different sizes.
So then we were looking custom and again finding exorbitant prices. But we found a fabulous Etsy shop in Arizona. The owner emailed back and forth with me very fast and handmade the mirrors to the dimensions we needed. I asked for them unfinished then I had Sherwin-Williams match the stains on the vanities, and I stained the mirrors to match.
Here’s the link if you want to check out his shop. Including shipping, we paid $397 for the pair. Half the price of any other custom quote online.
I’m a Pottery Barn catalogue junkie. The Restoration Hardware lookbook, and several of the other major retail catalogues are also great design inspiration. I also go to a lot of open houses — especially new construction — and I am always reading blogs and online trend reports.
I love changing table top designs and mantles based on the season or trends and while sometimes there’s the spendy item here and there I treat myself to, for the most part I find the looks for less at a craft store chain or a vintage or resale shop.
My friends often ask how to deal with all the kid stuff being all over the place. This is one of the biggest design challenges! It feels like kid stuff has its own babies. It multiplies. There are 2 books on a table then suddenly there are 15 and you can’t see the table anymore! So here are a few tips that have worked for us. If they work for you too great! But every family has to figure out what fits them.
Baskets are our bffs (Container store we ‘heart’ you!). I store toys, dog toys, books, any small items and then my son loves pulling out a basket and going through something he hasn’t seen in a few days. Works great! I get old crates sometimes too for a cute look — woven, silk, cotton, there’s so many options!
When he stops playing with a toy and grows out of it I get it out of the house! It’s evicted! There’s a great swap store nearby where you can bring in your toys to sell or trade. If it’s not an ideal toy for that store, then it goes to donation or friends. (Speaking of toys, this is my son’s current favorite and we love it too! You can make it into over 300 different constructions and it’s still compact. We buy it for all our kid party gifts! )
If I’m maxed out on baskets, I come up with something else. Got to have a toy box! Love having the toy box in the living room — it stores 70% of the main toys so that at the end of the morning and end of the day I can do a quick toss in and feel less ‘taken over’ by kid stuff. For our own mental health at the end of the day, my husband and I usually put all toys in the baskets or box because we need to feel like ‘us’ for awhile and have a clean space.
Those vintage travel suitcases in my son’s room were the result of just random google searches looking for new different storage ideas. I do that a lot! Changing up our space to fit our evolving needs makes me feel more creative and relaxed.
You asked me what I hope my kid will remember about living here and what he will forget. Well thankfully he will forget my several thousand trips running after him down the hall to stop him from harassing the workmen! And that I wouldn’t let him play with the hammers and sharp objects. I hope he remembers with any home we take on, that we work hard to make a fun, creative, comfortable home life. That we take care of every place we live and that over time we can teach him about investment, and that part of the reason we care so much for these homes is providing him an investment for life.
Taking pride in your home is a wonderful thing and caring for it like we do — keeping up the yard, doing the chores, staining and sealing the deck, whatever the task might be, they are all lessons we want him to learn about hard work and nurturing a home.
When people tell you life will never be the same they are not kidding! I love that my son (while he likes his toys) can delight in the simplest things in the house instead. The tupperware cupboard is a favorite — from a very early age, he could spend an hour taking everything out of it and just have a ball playing on his own. Taking all the shoes off the shoe shelf and putting them back with new shoe mates is another activity he loves.
We are however still in the ‘relocation of objects’ stage. I find the remotes in the laundry, or just yesterday my husband found a floor cleaning brush in the fruit drawer in the fridge.
On a more serious note, my husband and I just had an honest chat about the biggest challenge we have in our life right now: dealing with the Rheumatoid Arthritis and my health since having Jackson. And we both said it was the biggest surprise we had not expected that sometimes you don’t just bounce back after having a baby.
Whether it’s post-partum depression, migraines, weight gain, exhaustion, whatever the health issue, lots of women struggle in some way because having children can take a big toll. But even have said that, we both agreed that even though the pregnancy set off the RA, we would do it all again in order to have our son. So from that perspective, we wish we had been a bit more prepared for the challenge or had an expectation it could happen, but we would not have done anything differently. Being a mother is the best thing that ever happened in my life.
Thank you, Barbara! What a lovely home and so much helpful advice about doing a remodel. I feel like I need to spend a bit more time on Etsy looking for furniture pieces! My mouth was hanging open reading about the prices. And I’ve always been obsessed with grasscloth wallpaper. It’s great to know a great online source.
Have you ever been through a big remodel? What did you learn that you wish you’d know before you started? (Like that great bit about everything taking three times as long!) Have you remodeled with kids? How did you make that work? Any more tips and tricks for doing a remodel?
Acrylic Chandelier in the dining room
Acrylic Barstools (warning: if you have toddlers you’ll be wiping them down a few times a week!)
Credits: Photography by Jason Bryce of VHT. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.