1890's Workman's Cottage


Renovation story

This was our home renovation on Whipple Street in Chicago. The house was built in 1890 and was built as a workman’s cottage. The house had undergone many owners, all adding their own touches. When we bought the home it was being used as a 3 flat, with people living upstairs, downstairs and in the basement. We knew when we bought it that the neighborhood was undergoing a lot of changes and that it would be a great home to fix up and make our own. I have to be completely honest and tell you that the home was a total dump. It was really hard for even my husband to see through the bad paint colors and dirt to our dream home.The house was a short sale and it was in 2009 when the housing market was at an all time low.

Our kids at the time were 3 and 6 and our daughter cried when we told her we were moving into the “ugly” house, as she called it. The upstairs bedroom in the back, which eventually became the master bedroom, had gang graffiti on the closet door burned into the varnish. There were roaches and bugs everywhere. I remember being so excited after we finally closed on the house and when we went to see it, for what felt like the first time, I broke down and cried. When you buy a “fixer upper” in Chicago, you can most likely look at the house twice and you are usually rushed through because there are tenants living in it. It took almost 8 months to close on the house so all we had to hold onto were photos we had taken during the showing.

When we bought the house we knew we had to do some work, so we borrowed money and put the rest on a credit card and did a quick reno just to make the house livable. We knew it was a temporary fix but we also needed to do some things so the money got us an IKEA kitchen/ appliances (which we bought used), bathrooms, paint, (which I did myself) upstairs connected to the downstairs, and a clean livable house (although if you ask our relatives who came to visit, I don’t think they would have agreed). Over the course of the next 5 years we lived we continued to angst about how we wanted to actually make this house work. The layout was not great (pretty standard for an old Chicago home) but not for a family, and there were still a lot of things that needed our attention, meaning most things were broken and leaking and needed fixing.

Our kids friends would come over to play and we would have to warn them about little things like the missing trim or crazy things that you just don’t get around to finishing when you start a giant project like this. Our kids also wanted to know if our house would ever be “normal” like their friends houses. We had to assure them that all would be fine, but that daddy and I were working on the plan. That was about the time that I invented my Lille Huset dollhouses for kids to make their own. It was through this process and trying to empower our kids to understand what it was like to have a house of your own that needed love and care that my business was born. I created the first lille huset dollhouse for my daughter for her 8th birthday modeled after our house and she loved making it her very own.

It took us about 3 years to finally land on a plan that we loved. Matt and I always go back and forth forever and ever about every detail and started our sketch up model of the house, it was from there that we knew we could envision the new house. When we finished the planning our home had increased in value, because of the neighborhood, Logan Square gentrifying, and we were able to take a home equity line to finish the job. We sold the house about a year ago and moved on to renovate a 70’s ranch house in Austin, Texas.



Project Gallery

before photos