When we bought it

When we bought it

Driving around Logan Square in Chicago you can see our house all over the place. It’s a very typical design that was built in large numbers around the turn of the 20th century. While the newly wealthy were building stately Greystones along Logan Boulevard, the less affluent were building cheap balloon frame houses. You can see in the picture that the house next door is the exact same style as ours.

The house was always a two flat. At the time it was common to build these not for renters, but for extended families: married children, elderly parents, grown siblings. Architecturally the house is fairly plain, and yet doing some research reveals all sorts of merging styles and trends going on.

For example, pitched roofs with the gable facing the street started during the Greek Revival, while asymmetry, bay windows, and hip-roofs were popular elements of the Queen Anne style. While the original porch is long gone, it was originally decorated with gingerbread spindles and finials. The footprint is similar to many of its Greystone masonry contemporaries that line the street, which were a mixture of Queen Anne and Italianite styles.

Our House, circa 1897 (Far left of image)

Our House, circa 1897 (Far left of image)

Our neighbor’s parents built and lived in the house centered in this picture, but we were lucky enough to get a copy, since our house is on the left. You can see all the details and decoration that was slowly lost over the years. We’re not striving for historical restoration with our project, especially given how common houses like ours are. We’re planning a front porch that spans the whole house, and we’re getting rid of the hip roof and second floor bump out.

When we replaced the windows on the bay, we found the inset panels you can see below the windows intact, covered in layers of siding and more than a little rotten. The original back porch was enclosed at some point, as nearly all back porches in Chicago were. It has a typical layout with a common foyer, the Living Room (parlor) at the front, followed by Dining Room, Bathroom, and Kitchen moving back. The other side contains three narrow Bedrooms. Originally there was a pantry behind the rear bedroom, but on both floors this has been walled up and connected to the back Bedroom either as part of the room or as a closet.

There were transoms over the doors, gas lighting, pot belly stoves that connected to the chimney in addition to the coal-fired steam radiator central heat. In the back yard there is a catch basin to collect rain water. Much of the original details have been covered up, removed, or simply forgotten. When the house was built there were almost no automobiles of any kind, so there certainly wasn’t a garage. The nearby ‘L’ stop along Milwaukee Avenue opened the year before our house was built, though street cars were also common. Even so, the alley was there, providing access for coal and other deliveries, the nearby dairy built in the 1870s, and doubtless some of the houses had stables.

The house today

The house today

You can start to see our impact on the house with the new front door and windows on the first floor. It looks silly at the moment, since most of the work so far has been to the inside, but it’s coming along.


9 Responses to The House

  1. Debbie G says:

    you are very brave. Best of luck with your project! If you care to recommend your architect and/or contractors please do! We are launching into redoing our (younger 1946) two-flat but we are much older than you so lack your energy!

  2. Matt says:

    Thanks! The real variable in a project like this is what you do yourself and what you pay others to do. If you have the time and energy to do it yourself you add equity (assuming you do it correctly). Also, our project would be much simpler if we weren’t living in the house while we remodel it, but that’s a cost and time trade off we’re willing to make. Good luck with your two-flat!

  3. Oscar says:

    Best of luck with your project. I did a second floor addition in a 1.5 story Chicago brick bungalow. It took us one year to finish it (luckily before my baby was born). It really pays off in the end. I settle and write estimates for property and commercial claims for an insurance co (adjuster), if you need help estimating the cost of labor or materials in your house I can always help. Shoot me an email. Oscar_425@msn.com

  4. Matt says:

    Thanks, and congratulations on finishing your own project!

  5. Chris says:

    How fantastic! And how much like what we’re doing in upstate NY. We’re also kind of architecture nuts trying to blend modern styles with older design – sorta Pottery Barn Meets Queen Anne. The pictures you’ve posted are terrific and so reminiscent of our projects (we’re on our third now) (I know, we’re crazy, but there’s something very satisfying about doing this sort of thing). Love the pictures of cooking pizza in the garage – in our current house we ripped out the kitchen and moved some walls around – interesting engineering – and had only a sink with a frame I’d built from 2x4s and a microwave oven for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Amazingly, we’re still married. It’s all worth it. Best of luck to you.

  6. Matt says:

    It’s been quite the adventure so far. I admire your persistence, I can’t imagine doing it more than once! We’re trying to find a “transitional” balance between traditional and modern. I love the look of crown moulding and coffered ceilings, built-ins and such, but nothing too ornate. Not as delicate as Queen Anne or as blocky as Craftsman… we’ll have to see how it works out. Thanks and best of luck to you as well!

  7. Laura says:

    So happy to find your blog! Debating jumping into a two-flat in Bridgeport. Eek. My sister and her husband are buying the two flat next to their home, a matching two flat where they live in one unit, in April to convert to a single family. They are in Logan too! Scary to make the leap but seeing your results makes me feel better. Good luck with the project!

  8. Matt says:

    Thanks! There are a lot of two flats in the area, and a lot of them need work. It’s great to see other people taking on the challenge. I wish them luck as well!

  9. Vivek says:

    Dear Matt & Sarah,
    We are also attempting to digout our basement in a two-flat in the UIC Medical district. It is nice to see someone having done this by themselves. What did you guys do about licenses and permits and such? What kinds were required for this job? We have some knowledge, having done a few gut rehabs, but this would be our first basement digout. Look forward to hearing back from you via email.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *