How to Embrace Uncertainty During a Home Renovation

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  • For one type A couple, remodeling a home was never part of the plan—until suddenly, it was.

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    My husband, David, and I are analyzers by nature. Some might even say over-analyzers. He’s an economic consultant; I’m an attorney. Our work requires us to sweat the details, but our scrutinizing tendencies spill into after-work hours, too. For example, the contents of my closet are color-coded and my storage containers are labeled, David carefully weighs the cost and benefits of every purchase, and our friends tease us about our detailed vacation itineraries. We even schedule time for spontaneity. So imagine our surprise when, in the summer of 2018, we found ourselves negotiating a real-estate contract from a campsite in Winter Park—with spotty cell service—for a century-old bungalow we never planned to look at in the first place.

    This uncharacteristically impulsive decision was the result of our quest for a little less “doing” and a little more “being” in life. For almost 10 years, we had loved living in our small, high-rise apartment in downtown Chicago, but over time, we grew weary of the concrete-jungle lifestyle. We traveled often to Denver, where we’d meet up with friends before escaping to the mountains to camp, hike, or snowshoe. Those moments in nature connected us to the “being” part of life, and the more we experienced them in Colorado, the more we did not want to leave.

    So eventually, we decided to stay. One morning in June 2018, we drove to the West Wash Park neighborhood—an area that would provide our desired mix of city conveniences and quieter residential vibe, according to a year’s worth of research on Redfin—to meet our real estate agent and tour a few houses. When we parked, we noticed a for-sale sign in front of a 1922 bungalow. The immediate draw we both felt to the home’s classic Craftsman beauty surprised us. Our real estate agent arranged for a showing that afternoon, and when we stepped inside, we fell hard for the original crown molding, living-room archway, Rookwood Pottery–tile fireplace surround, and 8-foot-tall windows that flooded the main floor with light.

    The only issue: It would need an extensive renovation in order to tick the boxes of our carefully considered home-buying checklist. Although remodeling a home was never part of our plan, we trusted our intuition and took that spotty call in Winter Park just days later to seal the deal.

    The Work Begins

    The biggest challenge of the entire remodel was choosing a contractor. Several proposals included popping the top or expanding the footprint, which would have changed the house’s understated style—an element we loved. (Our years of living small in Chicago had taught us the virtues of minimalism.) Eventually, we met with the local design-build firm Original Roots. Their team not only shared our commitment to preserving the house’s original character and maximizing the existing space, but they also had an open and detail-oriented communication style that matched our own (think: gorgeous itemized worksheets!).

    Our plan of attack was to develop a layout that met all of our needs for space and flow within the house’s current envelope. We removed a staircase to make room for a third bathroom, added a main bedroom suite, took down the wall separating the kitchen from the dining and living rooms, and gutted and refinished the basement to create more living space. (As it turns out, our analytical tendencies helped us find joy in getting to know the house down to its every inch—literally. David still mentions the two extra inches he “found” for our main bathroom’s shower.)

    No renovation is complete without setbacks: We had hoped to uncover and preserve the original kitchen flooring, but discovered asbestos tiles glued to it. A day before we planned to pour concrete in the backyard, our clay sewer line broke. And let’s just say we had plenty of practice navigating tense conversations about which projects to prioritize in order to stay within our budget. Throughout the process, we learned the importance of relinquishing control from time to time. Some days required us to toss our checklists and make quick decisions; others just required a good sense of humor.

    As I look around the house now, I delight in the old-meets-new design that was a century in the making. With the grit and dust behind us, we can fully appreciate the home that maintains its historical roots while also being uniquely ours—a place that encourages a little less “doing” and a little more “being.”

    This article appeared in the February/March 2021 issue of 5280 Home.

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