In Our Living Room: Dana Lewis and Sam Vinz

Dana Lewis and Sam Vinz were looking for a place they could call their own in the West Town area. Working with Sarah Frier at LivingRoom Realty they found a perfect bungalow they could transform into a light and art filled dream home.

LivingRoom: Tell us about your property?

Dana: We bought a 1890 one story 750 sq ft bungalow in Humboldt Park in 2014. It is a standard Chicago lot size. The house had not been updated/renovated in quite some time (many decades). It was a one bedroom/one bath with separate garage and unfinished basement. We knew when we bought it what it would be big renovation project.

LivingRoom: What were the deciding factors when choosing your area and picking your property?

Dana: We had looked at so many properties and could not find anything that seemed like the right fit for us. We were open to the perfect condo, single family or a multi-unit that was in our price range. The more we looked, we realized we would be paying for renovations that did not match out aesthetic. When we found our house on an MLS listing we thought it seemed like a unique property and worth checking out, especially after seeing so many places and listings that  looked so similar. We went for a second visit and brought a contractor who thought the best approach for adding space and renovation would be to add a second floor rather than finishing the basement or extending the length into the back yard. We then had an inspector out to make sure the foundation could support a second floor. Once we got the ok from the inspector we made an offer and got the house.

Sam: It got to be really difficult to walk into a condo/single-family/multi-unit that had just been redone in a bunch of awful standard materials. All of that is factored into the price of the home. The ‘contractor-special’ is not really our vibe - so to pay a premium for those finishes was not appealing to us.

Dana: Very quickly it became apparent that we were best suited for a place that needed a little love. Which is what we found in this house - it needed a lot!

LivingRoom: What’s your favorite thing about your property?

Dana: This the first time either one of us has owned a property. It’s so much more quiet than living in an apartment, which is nice. It’s also great to have a yard for entertaining. We plan to design the yard for an optimal entertaining space next year. It’s also very nice to be so close to the park. There are great restaurants, coffee shops and bars a 5 minute walk away.

LivingRoom: What would you tell someone who is embarking on the buying process?

Dana: I would say to not settle on a place unless you love it. We made a few offers on places and thankfully none of them worked out. We realized we were settling. As run down as our house was when we bought it, we both knew we had found the home that was going to be perfect for us

Sam: Agreed, while much harder to create a space in that manner that we did, settling for something less would have left us both unfulfilled.

LivingRoom: Tell us about yourself?

We rented in Ukrainian Village for 4 years before buying our home. We love to travel and met while traveling in Mexico City in 2010. I am an Emergency Room Nurse Practitioner and Sam owns Volume Gallery, a contemporary design gallery in Chicago.

LivingRoom: Tell us about any improvements you made or plan to make and why?

Dana: We gutted the entire first floor and added a brand new second floor to make a 3 bedroom/2.5 bath home. Everything in the house is new except the first level exterior brick. We did not finish the basement because we don't need the extra space and for now it is nice to have laundry and a workshop type area for Sam for the remaining house projects

Sam: We need to do things in stages. First stage is the house, second stage is the yard, third stage is the garage.

LivingRoom: Can you tell us about that process?

Dana: Once we bought the house we rented it out on AirBnB and a 6 month lease which was great because we were able to cover the mortgage while get got everything in order for the renovation. It took about 15 months to get the plans, permits, hire the  contractor, loan, etc.

Since Sam owns a design gallery, he knows a lot of people in the Chicago Architecture world. We asked our friends Carrie Norman and Thomas Kelley of the  Norman Kelley Architecture firm if they would like to design our home. They accepted the job and we are very grateful for all their hard work, patience and dedication. We collaborated with them for the basic concepts of what we were looking for- an open space ideal for entertaining, 3 bed/2.5 bath, a large skylight in the stairwell, an overall modern looking design. We interviewed several different contractors. We basically went with the most affordable option, Walsh Custom Homes  and Jim Walsh was great and I would recommend him to anyone without hesitation. I don't think many people can say that about their contractors.

We started construction in January of 2016 and moved in August 2016 with no floors, kitchen, dry wall not completed- basically we had plumbing and electric and that was enough for us to stop paying rent and move in. We worked everyday after work and every weekend for about 5 months. Luckily, Sam is very handy so he put in all the floors, kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities, trim for the floors and painted the entire interior of the house. We hired someone through our contractor to install all the tile.

We tried to be as resourceful and economical  when finding materials we wanted. We also wanted to support smaller business and stay away from the Home Depot type stores as much as  possible.  We got wide plank pine for our downstairs floors from a lumber company in Wisconsin. We got 10 ft solid wood doors from salvage place in Milwaukee. We used a small company in Glen Ellyn for our soap stone counter tops and they are also carpenters so they hung our doors and did an excellent job with both. We hired amish from Wisconsin to make and install our built-in closets. We spent many weekends going to tile outlets, salvage yards, estate sales, habitat for humanities, etc looking for what we needed.

We still have several projects to finish, but have been living comfortably and loving our space since getting the bulk of the project done by December 2016.