In 2003, Bridget Brennan, owner of a marketingstrategy company, and Erik Orelind, a physician, moved to the historic Lakewood/Balmoral section of Andersonville, on Chicago's North Side. They loved its proximity to downtown: "It's like a small town within the city limits," says Brennan. But the century-old house that they purchased needed some serious TLC. A chopped-up layout with very few windows on the first floor left the 2,000-square-foot dwelling dark. "I had a hard time seeing its potential," says Brennan. "But Erik is better with spatial relationships than I am, and could visualize it the minute we walked in the door."
The couple's move-in was just weeks before their wedding, so an immediate renovation wasn't in the cards. But a year later they were ready—and luckily for them, a skilled architectural team had offices just down the street. Thom Green and Rick Proppe, principals of Green & Proppe Design, live and work mere blocks from Brennan and Orelind's house, and oversee many of the restorations and renovations in the neighborhood. "They live here, so they have a vested interest in keeping the historic integrity of the home designs," says Brennan.
Brennan and Orelind didn't need a lot of extra square footage, so their architects devised a clever plan that kept the changes within the existing building envelope. "All the elements were there; they just needed to be rearranged," says Proppe.
The kitchen, with limited counter space and only two drawers (set at right angles to each other so only one at a time could be opened) needed a complete overhaul. The couple loves to cook together, so to make way for better circulation, more room for food prep, and a large informal eating area, the architects usurped adjacent space that was formerly a dilapidated, uninsulated porch. The homeowners opted for a warm, Arts and Crafts–inspired style: cherry-stained, recessed-panel cabinets partnered with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. "Now that we've created this great cooking environment, we're much less tempted to order in," Brennan says.
Green and Proppe opened up the wall between the kitchen and living area for a more practical plan and to allow natural light to flow through the house. "Increasing light was a priority for us," says Brennan. "Chicago can get gloomy in the winter months, so we wanted as many windows as possible." Those windows include a colorful stained glass model in the living room that fits in with the era of the house. "We live cheek by jowl with our neighbors," says Brennan of the close city quarters. "This was a great solution because it's aesthetically pleasing and allows natural light into the core of the house while maintaining privacy."
To create a master suite, the architects took the space above the old porch (an unusable second-floor deck), expanding an existing bedroom and replacing a bath. "Now it's almost all windows," says Brennan. In another effort to brighten up cold, gray winter mornings, the master bathroom was covered in a bold and cheery custom mosaic tile pattern in a wide range of blue hues. "It never fails to give me a good feeling when I walk through the door and see all that blue," Brennan says.
Now that their home is comfortable and functional, the couple stays in and entertains more than ever, and Brennan runs her business from the house. "I was vacillating about whether to work at home or not," she says, "and one of the most compelling reasons to do so was that it's so beautiful now that I want to spend all my days here."
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