Monday, August 15, 2011

Our Journey to Kenilworth and Our New Home circa 1891!

I think I was half out of my mind when I chose this house. You have to understand that I was totally thrown for a loop when I learned that I might be leaving Atlanta, my home of 42 years where we knew everyone and where we were very ingrained in the community. Our  children were in great schools with wonderful friends and as a mom, I knew how to navigate the world of activities ranging from  NYO pee wee football to piano lessons with the most quintessential piano teacher you can imagine! I knew who to go to for almost everything and I enjoyed being that person to whom others would refer for advice on such matters. I remember once a mom told me she called to get my take on something because I was the voice of reason...I'm laughing hysterically right now, especially after the day I've had!

Maybe I was just "too" comfortable or ever so slightly bored...I don't know? Surely, there is some underlying reason that I decided to take a risk and obliterate my "nest" to move to a suburb on the north shore of Chicago. Less than a month after that memorable Friday afternoon late last August,  I was house hunting in Kenilworth. Kenilworth is a village founded in the late 1800s. It's a very quaint and unique place full of beautiful old homes. After a very long weekend with a slightly impatient husband and three very tired children in tow, I chose this classic southern Greek revival home built in 1891. It's the only house out of the dozen or so we looked at in which I got my "vision"....ughhhh...such a curse. We looked at several other homes.

Architect George Maher, a Prairie School architect like Frank Lloyd Wright, was a Kenilworth resident and he designed many of the homes here in Kenilworth in the early 1900s. We looked at a few of these homes like the one pictured above and this one:

I was not accustomed to the prairie style, but I do find the homes intriguing.  I have such an appreciation for the historical components that lead to this very "new and innovative" architectural movement of the early 1900s. I particularly loved the interior of this home directly above. We could have moved right in. The owners had completed a beautiful renovation and although there was a new and fresh approach in the renovation, they stayed true to the historical architecture and style of the home.

This Dutch Colonial, another very popular style of home here, was also move-in ready. It was actually my first choice, but I did not trust myself in the decision making process as well as I normally do...I was feeling a bit out of sorts!

There were a number of lovely tudor style homes such as this one. I run by it daily and second guess myself. I might have had an inkling of a vision in this house, but it was time for lunch and everyone was rushing me! It's still on the market. Apparently there aren't that many visionaries looking at homes in Kenilworth. I think it could be spectacular!

Or this one below, which was my son's first choice. I do think it has the most curb appeal of all the homes we considered. It looks huge, but it's actually just one room deep. It's almost the inverse of our house which is very narrow yet deep.

And then there is this beautiful classic red brick georgian style home. Of all the homes, this one best matches my personal style. We did not choose this one because the needed renovation would not be contained to the interior. We would need to add on and I didn't think I was up for that. Some friends of ours bought it and they are currently renovating. I can't wait to see the finished product!

After journeying through this post and reliving the house hunting process it might be more clear to me now why we chose this classic Southern Greek Revival home. It was familiar and comfortable at a time when we had way too much change to process. It also needed "fixing" and I do love a project. The home was built in 1891 with a 1989 renovation that did not belong and was perhaps the most poorly planned use of space that I have ever seen. It was screaming for help! I feel like the existing home was a work of art with an "add-on" that detracted.  For instance, take a look at the master bathroom...

So this is a beautiful architecturally historic home and here is the 1989 master bath. No, that is not a small wading pool, it is the tub which took up the entire bathroom! The tiny sink vanities were directly across from each other with less than 3 feet of space in between. We had to be careful to stand straight and look directly ahead if we were both getting ready at the same time. The cornice above the window is almost aeronautical in style. These cornices were throughout the entire  master bedroom, too...with backlights!

And here is another close up of that tub that I took just before the sledge hammer totally demolished it!

As adventurous as we were and because we needed to move in before school started back in January, we put it under contract before we could even tell our friends and family we were moving. The next few months are a blur and on December 20, 2010 we moved in.

During the first two weeks, I was so busy moving in, celebrating the holidays, meeting neighbors, having house guests, learning how to deal with the snow and getting the children ready to start new schools and activities that I don't think reality had time to set in. Once the children started back to school, I looked around and thought, "What have we done?"

Maybe it's because I spent most of my time on my computer at my breakfast table....under this pool table/interrogation style light fixture:

When you are looking straight ahead, you can see the very dark and small kitchen which opens up into this gymnasium style breakfast room/family room. I never new gymnasium could be a style!  Maybe we should have installed a basketball goal and a pool table. The kids would be happy! And then there is this faux finish...

Need I say more?

So I thought I might go out of my mind, but on the recommendation of several new neighbors, I came across a wonderful kitchen and bath design company called Chester & Chester in Evanston, IL. That was in January. By March we had a plan and a builder, H/S Builders in Rolling Meadows, IL. The day after Easter we started demolition. Today the countertops began to be installed and by the end of the day on Thursday we should have appliances. I hope to have a fully functioning kitchen by next weekend! We have changed the gymnasium/granite and cherry museum of a family room and the garden room will be a media room in which I will exercise creative license like never before. I am painting it chocolate brown...everything, trim, built-ins, walls with a deep dark teal blue ceiling. The carpeting will be wall to wall seagrass and I will use a beautiful Baktiari Persian rug that I used in my previous family room. We renovated the master bedroom and added two closets and a deep window seat over looking the backyard.  We fixed that master bath! We now have a huge shower, small tub and a large double vanity. I can't wait to share pictures with you very soon!

So from all of this, as promised, helpful design tips are as follows:

1. Don't be afraid to take on a worthwhile project! It can be very rewarding! Stick with it and stay strong.

2. Always stay true to the design of a house. Juxtaposition is a great concept and I'm all for moderation!

3. Surround yourself with worthy and capable professionals like Chester & Chester and H/S Builders. Get recommendations from friends and get references. Actually call the references and check them out. Do your homework!

4. Always have a plan. You've got to begin with the end in mind for those Stephen R. Covey buffs out there. Yet, be process oriented....let the spaces evolve. I know it sounds like a contradiction, but find a designer that thinks this way. You need to end up with spaces that reflect the heart and soul of your family, not a hotel lobby effect.

5. Never lose sight of what's most important. People are most important. Your home will NEVER be perfect. Don't wait until it's perfect to have friends and family over to make the memories that make a house a home. Have friends over often. I can't wait to host all of our new friends! Old friends and family, let me know when you are on your way! Everyone is invited!

~Finely Frugal~


  1. Where are you? We all miss your posts. Is the renovation taking over,leaving no time for blogging? You have piqued our curiousity,only leaving us to wonder what's up. Hope you will return with an update soon!

  2. Sorry to leave you wondering...yes, the renovation did take over! I have a new post today and I will have another this weekend. I'm going to start a series of before and after room by room.

  3. Hmm., Kenilworth is such a wonderful place to live in. It's full of historic houses, which were beautifully designed. I bet you've been busy renovating your new home. I know how tiring and stressful it can be, but all will be worth it after you see the finish product. :)