The Johnson's

When you talk about your home, there’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in it. Home is where family is, where we’ll raise our kids, entertain friends, host holidays, pursue hobbies, and grow together. When we think about our goals for this project, those emotions become the drivers for a lot of the things we do.

Like most people, we want a nice house in a nice neighborhood. In Chicago, living in the city means that having a nice house in a nice neighborhood is pretty expensive. The city offers a lot of things the more affordable suburbs don’t: it’s close to our jobs, we can walk to shops and restaurants, share one car, hop on the train and be downtown in minutes, and enjoy a lifestyle that we’ve grown to love. The trick is how do you get the city life without spending a ton of money or living in a sketchy area?

When the housing collapse happened, we realized we couldn’t rely on appreciation to make our house worth more down the road than it is today. Paying someone to fix up a house costs as much as just buying a house that’s already nice, plus we’ve seen and heard lots of horror stories about less than stellar workmanship, not just in renovated houses but in brand new ones. All of this led us to take it on ourselves.

Our hope is that by building this ourselves we can not just save money, but know that the work is done the right way. We want a house that’s solid through and through, healthy, safe, and efficient. We want a house that’s big enough that we can have kids, that our families can visit, and that has the space for the things we want to do.

Doing this ourselves is also about the experience itself. We’re learning all kinds of things about buildings, history, planning, and putting a lot of our values into action, with a house that’s more energy efficient not just so it costs less to own but because we believe conserving resources is a good thing. That’s another reason we’re rehabbing instead of building new: to save all the material and energy we can by starting from an existing house. It’s something we can take pride in and enjoy all the more when we finally have it because we worked hard to get it instead of just floating a loan or plunking down the money.

We’ve never done anything this big before, and may never again. We have a picture in our minds of what it will be like when it’s done, but we’re also trying to enjoy the journey. Working on the house is a chore at times, but it’s also an opportunity to spend time together and with friends and family. We couldn’t do this without the help of all the people around us.


2 Responses to The Goal

  1. Brian Shea says:

    Dear Matt and Sarah,
    I found your site bc of Marcus de La Fleur who I know via the landscape industry. When I am not remodeling my own home in Logan Sq. I manage a garden design business in the city. Right now my main focus is finishing a gut rehab of an 1890 brick worker’s cottage on Charleston, just west of Western. We finished the basement excavation (130 cubic tons)last winter and now, finally wait for the plumber to finish his work and inspections. Most of the framing is done and half of the electrical. I would be happy to compare notes about projects if you have any interest. Please contact me at my email for our address and my mobile. In any case, good luck. I can’t wait to move into Logan Sq. and be neighbors. Brian

  2. Andrew Jung says:

    what amazing youngsters! Good luck to all your tries. I let my two sons,30 and 28,who never try these,read your case, so to wake up them for new experiences.Keep posting.

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