In Our Living Room Home Tours: Megan & Alex Menocal

 
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In this installment of In our LivingRoom home tours we were thrilled to visit Megan and Alex and their North Park bungalow.

LivingRoom: Tell us about your property?

M & A: We live in a classic brick bungalow in the North Park neighborhood of Chicago. We were impressed with the quality of the green spaces in walking distance, with the neighbors, and the vintage feel of the homes in the neighborhood. The house itself is a three-bedroom with two and a half baths. The history of the home is really evident in certain areas - the basement includes a showerhead over a drain, which was installed so that the homeowner could bathe after coming home from his work in aluminum fabrication. The second bedroom has a charming built-in bookcase that has been in place since at least the early '60s. The bathroom on the main floor is tiled in classic Chicago fashion. The attic features a nice office / guest bedroom space and a full bathroom. We also love the garden, which has been lovingly cared for over the years, and we see peonies, lilacs, roses, hostas, and ferns come to life every spring.

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

M & A: We were looking for a quiet, stable neighborhood. We had been living in Albany Park, so we had become pretty entrenched in the far north side. We based our search around areas that we already knew that we liked, and the North Park neighborhood was familiar to us, Megan graduated from North Park University. We were planning on starting a family, so the school districts were also very important to us, and North Park has great elementary schools.

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

M & A: It's a 100 year old home with some great details - one of our favorite features is a beautiful tulip stained glass window in our living room. And unlike many homes of this age, there are no objectionable “upgrades” by prior owners, as a matter of fact all of the upgrades have been legitimate improvements, like central air, a modernized kitchen, and all new windows.

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

M & A: Trust the process, be patient and give yourself time! We were so excited to get into homeownership that we were ready to make offers on homes early in the process that probably wouldn't have been a good fit for us or would have more work than we were prepared to do. As we saw more homes through the process, we got a better feel for what our priorities really were. We also saw firsthand that it is very common for a purchase to fall through after an offer has been made. This happened to us a few times and it was very discouraging. In the end, we are very happy with the home we found! This house was by far our favorite and we are really happy here.

LivingRoom: Tell us about yourself?

Alex: I am director of strategy at Mess, a design and web development agency in West Town. I love sitting in the sunny garden reading a book while Megan works hard to keep everything in order!

Megan: I am a registered nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. I love to garden and have enjoyed finally having a backyard of our own. We have a toddler who keeps up laughing and who loves taking his tricycle around the neighborhood and waving at every dog.

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

M & A: We had a new chimney built as well as some masonry work on the house's brick front. So far, though, the biggest home improvement that we have made so far was to replace all of the galvanized steel plumbing with copper piping. At the time of purchase, we knew that the plumbing would eventually need repair because of our home inspection. It was a large and expensive job but we can really tell a difference in water pressure now. The next project on our list is to replace the concrete front steps which are falling apart.

LivingRoom: Can you tell us about that process?

M & A: For both of these projects we started by taking recommendations from friends, using online resources and by getting multiple bids on projects.

LivingRoom: Well thank you so much for sharing your beautiful home with us!

In Our Living Room Home Tours: Ted and Sharon Burdett

 
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In this installment of In our LivingRoom home tours we were thrilled to visit Ted and Sharon Burdett of Strand Design and their inspiring studio condo at the iconic Marina City. This dynamic duo designed, renovated, and built custom cabinetry and furniture to maximize space, create efficiency, and live in a modern and serene home. We hope you enjoy this tour, and if you wish you could live there you are in luck as LivingRoom Realty will be listing this beautiful condo soon!

LivingRoom: Tell us about your property?

T & S: Our condo is located on the 47th floor of the east tower in Marina City, facing northwest. It's a 500 sq ft. studio —with a 150 sq ft patio —which is really one of the most defining characteristics of Marina City. When we purchased this unit, it had been a rental for over thirty years. It hadn't been given any TLC for a very, very long time, and we had to gut it entirely. Nothing was salvageable. We treated the space as a testing ground for our design ideas, and have actually built and rebuilt many of the pieces that are now part of the apartment..

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

T & S: We've always believed in the philosophy of location, location, location. As two very busy people who were running a business together, we didn't need an enormous amount of space, since most of our waking hours were spent outside of the home. We just wanted something that would help make life easier, and bring a lot of enjoyment to us every day. Marina City is located in the center of the city, right on the Chicago River.  We've enjoyed the incredible views, daily walks on the riverwalk, the ease of being able to walk everywhere to get everything we need, and the access to transportation. We knew that these things would make things easier on us, and they certainly have.

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

T & S: You really just can't even believe how awesome the balconies are. It feels like you are inside of your own private opera-box with the ultimate view of the city. I've also been able to walk to work every day for the last five years.

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

T & S: Be honest with yourself. What are the things you can compromise on, and what are the things you cannot? We were able to compromise on space, but not everyone may be able to do that. We knew that convenience, access, and the daily enjoyment of the city were the most important things for us at the time.

LivingRoom: Tell us about yourself?

Ted: Professor of Design Entrepreneurship at UIC, co-owner of Strand Design, Fourneau, and Ironwood Cookware

Sharon: Co-founder Strand Design, and Fourneau, currently working at a health-tech startup

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


T & S: Well, we had to change almost everything in this apartment, so I'll focus on the things that we think make the biggest difference.

  • Installing a glass door. The windows are so beautiful and give you that seamless curtain of glass, but the standard doors are solid. We installed a glass door and it was huge improvement. The whole space is filled with light, it also allows light to travel down the hallway.

  • Installing a murphy bed. This is a real gamechanger, and allows you to actually have a living room. 

  • Making the closet into a desking area. We wanted to have multiple "zones" in the space, and the hallway closet is really huge considering the size of the space. We modified the wall, removed the door, and installed lighting so that it could become a "mini-office."

  • Using an under-counter refrigerator. A full-size refrigerator just looks absurd in these units. With an under-counter fridge, you get more counter space, and better sight lines.

LivingRoom: Can you tell us about that process?

T & S: As two designers who had a practice of building furniture together, this space was a mini-laboratory. In much of our work at Strand Design, we focused on utilizing urban lumber, and we continued to do so in our apartment. Almost all of the wood that you see in the space is salvaged ash from the Chicago urban forest.

LivingRoom: Well thank you so much for sharing your beautiful home with us!

If you want to see some before pictures check them out here.

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.

In Our LivingRoom: Meet Christen Carter of Busy Beaver Buttons

Meet Christen Carter of Busy Beaver Button Company

Busy Beaver Button Company, a thriving small business, was looking to grow their space, open a museum, and stay close to their original location on Armitage in Logan Square. With the help of Annie Coleman, Managing Broker of LivingRoom Realty, they purchased the perfect empty building sitting on a double wide lot a few blocks west of their original location on Armitage.

We asked them a few questions about their journey to expanding their headquarters.

LivingRoom Realty (LRR): Tell us about yourself?

Christen Carter (CC): I am a small business owner - Busy Beaver Button Co., and co-curator of the Button Museum. Right now, my life is mostly around buttons since I’m also working on a book about cultural history told through buttons.

I do love fixing up old buildings that need love and kinda like having property - it’s part of my retirement plan. I also like decorating and nesting into places, this has become a hobby of mine.

LRR: Tell us about your property?

CC: It’s a double-wide storefront with two apartments above. When I bought the building, it was just a blighted shell that suffered a couple of fires. But the beautiful yellow brick and personality were there! Plus, it has “good bones” as they say. The location is 3407 W Armitage, just west of Kimball. There’s also a big backyard and 3 car garage.

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

CC: We knew that we needed a place to expand, since I’m hoping this will be a 10+ year place for my company, Busy Beaver Button Co. And the big back yard will let us build out when we need to.It’s also walking distance from my house and close to the homes of many people who work here. And only a block away from our old location, so we wouldn’t lose any employees because of the distance. Being only a block away was very handy during construction - we could meet a tradesperson on a dime, since it took 2 minutes to walk from our previous location. 

The two apartments above help pay the mortgage and give us a cheaper property tax rate, those two things really help! Plus, for security sake, it’s nice that people are here during the day and at night, too.

I feel connected to Logan Square having lived and worked here since 2004, so I wanted to stay nearby. Plus, I remember when this building had two separate fires, the building was empty for years and it needed some serious love.

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

CC: The feel is just so nice. It’s pretty spacious and can display the Button Museum and accommodate the visitors. My brother, Joel found all this beautiful salvaged doors and interior windows, people can hardly believe that this place was a burned shell before we got it. You can really tell in all the details that a lot of love and consideration was put into it - this is mostly because of my brother!

LRR: What would you tell someone who is embarking on the buying process for your type of building?

CC:I always tell people to expect the project to cost at least 50% more than quoted by a GC and also about twice as long. The city can take awhile and things always come up.

We had to re-zone but that was the easiest thing - we had a good lawyer. That’s the other big thing - the professionals that you work with must honestly respect you and what you’re doing - trust is key. Some of the people we worked with were great, but some really made our lives more difficult than it needed to be. I learned a lot and now have developed what a “trusted partner” is, this helps us recognize red flags to change course. Have a good idea of what's important to you in terms of property characteristics, but also keep an open mind about what's going to work realistically, and be honest about your lifestyle needs. Obviously, finding the right agent is also crucial!

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

CC: I’d love to expand out the back to make more space for the button production. I also want to fix up the garage, not exciting, but we ran out of money with everything being over budget. Hopefully all of this within the next 3 years!

Thanks to Christen and Busy Beaver Button Co.  for letting LRR into their living room! Visit Busy Beaver Button Co. where you can order custom button, magnets and more. Do you have a button fan on your gift list? Consider picking up the Button Box  which contains one hundred colorful postcards featuring over three hundred buttons from the collection of the Busy Beaver Button Museum.

In Our LivingRoom: Meet Aaron & Vincent from East Garfield Park

Meet Aaron and Vincent, two new homeowners with serious artistic vision. Aaron and Vincent recently purchased a three bedroom, two bathroom home in East Garfield Park with the help of Susannah Ribstein and Annie Coleman of LivingRoom Realty.

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Both are Chicago transplants who were captivated by the city and couldn’t imagine leaving now. Aaron is the Director for Operations for Dynamism, Inc., a Chicago-based technology distributor focused on 3D printers and scanners.

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Vincent is the Art Director of a nonprofit that supports adult artists with disabilities: Arts of Life. He also runs LVL3, a gallery and online publication supporting creative talent from all around the world. They are also the parents of a beautiful cat, Rox and an impressively photogenic pitbull named Milo.

We asked them a few questions about their journey to homeownership.

LivingRoom Realty (LRR): So, what were the deciding factors when you were selecting a neighborhood and picking out a property?

Aaron & Vincent (A&V): One of our primary concerns was being close to work. We were both coming from super easy commutes and didn’t want to change that. We were lucky enough to find a place that's almost directly in between both of our day jobs--our commutes are really only about five minutes. We also wanted to make sure that we would be able to access a grocery store, a gym, and our friends fairly easily. We did not want to go to the suburbs! 

LRR: Can you explain a bit more about that process?

A&V: Our initial goal was to buy a commercial building, start a business, and live above it. After months of trying and several business plan drafts later, the process for financing proved too difficult to secure the property we were initially after. We eventually began looking strictly at residential homes, but came across a lot of bleak looking properties that needed tons of work and were at the top of our price point. We actually overlooked this property at first, but are ultimately very happy with it.

LRR: What made you choose this particular home? What’s your favorite thing about the property?

V: I love having a finished basement. We can hang out down there, watch movies, and display our art collection. The basement also serves as a private guest space when friends and family need a place to stay. We also wanted a large closet and were able to turn a whole room into a closet here.

A: Natural light is super important to me, so the fact that the kitchen and our bedroom both get a lot of that was a big factor. Also, having a space to garden (we have an extra long lot) is huge. 

LRR: After going through it yourselves, what would you tell someone who is about to embark on the home buying process?

A&V:  Don’t rush into it; the right property will come about in time. It’s easy to get excited about a property or feel like there's nothing out there worth your time, but it’s important to avoid settling on something you aren’t thoroughly excited about.

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Have a good idea of what’s important to you in terms of property characteristics, but also keep an open mind about what’s going to work realistically, and be honest about your lifestyle and needs. Obviously, finding the right agent is also crucial!

LRR: How did you incorporate your own style into the home? Tell us about any improvements you’ve made or plan to make.

A: We honestly didn't have to do much to the house since it had been renovated shortly before we bought it. The biggest things we did were paint the entire interior of the house ourselves and swap out all of the light fixtures to match our aesthetics better. 

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If we could have done that over, we definitely would have hired professional painters as opposed to two people who could help us paint. That was really challenging.

V: We hope to add some curb appeal to the house and paint the exterior (at least the front) in the next few years.  We have lots of plans for the front and backyard. Aaron’s planning a pretty complex garden, and I’m looking for ways to host backyard gatherings by adding a projection screen, fire pit, barbeque, and outdoor furniture.

Thanks to Aaron & Vincent for letting LRR into their living room! 

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