A design-minded couple gives a century-old house in Evanston a second chance to make a first impression
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Vintage bamboo furniture is paired with new furnishings in an enclosed front porch that spans the width of the house. The homeowners enjoy dinner and entertain guests in the space year-round. Photo Gallery »
Thom Wesely and Bob Planing had very different reactions to the four-bedroom brick house in Evanston that they first toured a few years ago.
Built in 1908, the 3,400-square-foot Prairie-inflected house had original floors, intact moldings, and an impressive 40-by-11-foot sun porch that stretched across the front of it, but the interior had seen better days. The steps on the main staircase were covered with worn carpeting, the living room’s brick fireplace had been painted pink, and the back door opened, unappetizingly, right into a small, dark kitchen. Wesely appreciated the way the spaces on the first floor flowed into one another and believed that a few structural changes could transform the place. Planing saw a mess.
In Wesely’s estimation, the kitchen needed to be gutted and expanded, the bathrooms needed renovation, and the house needed a new rear entrance that would be as welcoming as the elegant front foyer. Optimistically, he figured that the changes could be made in eight weeks; the gut renovation of the home’s back half ultimately took nine months.
“At one point I could stand on the first floor, look up, and see all the way through the roof on the third floor,” says Planing, who had suspected the project would take longer than planned.
The reconfiguration involved removing a back stairway and a large brick chimney that ran alongside it, as well as co-opting a small breakfast room between the living room and the kitchen to make space for a new rear foyer. This entrance connects to the front entry through a generous central space, home to an imposing staircase, that runs through the house front to back.
In the newly enlarged kitchen, room for more cabinets and counters became available once the old back door had disappeared. Wesely opted against wall-mounted upper cabinets, instead installing contemporary white-lacquered base cabinets and relying on dual pantries for additional storage. In the formal dining room, painting the tall wainscoting white and using dark color above it gave that part of the house a fresh new look, too.
A palette of taupe, gray, and chocolate for walls and upholstery provides a sophisticated backdrop for the couple’s eclectic furnishings, which include contemporary and midcentury modern pieces alongside European and Asian antiques. “We had a vintage shell that I really believed in, but I didn’t want vintage stuff everywhere,” Wesely says. “Good design is good design, whether it’s midcentury modern, Shaker, or 18th-century antiques.”
While the project took longer than anticipated, Planing is glad they gave the house a second chance.
“I loved seeing the metamorphosis,” he says. “I’m a sucker for design.”
1. Removing an adjacent cedar closet enabled the couple to double the size of a tiny guest bathroom on the third floor. Wood floors were installed to match existing flooring; the clawfoot tub is original. 2. The top portion of a wall between the staircase and the rear foyer was removed to help the front and back halves of the home flow into each other. 3. With two pantries for storage, Wesely decided to forgo wall-mounted upper cabinets. “The counter space feels more usable because there’s nothing hanging above it,” he says, “and the kitchen feels brighter and more spacious.” 4. In the rear foyer, a Chinese horseshoe chair gives visitors a place to take off their shoes—or take in the view. Wesely expanded the opening between the kitchen and the newly created rear foyer to mimic doorways near the front entrance.
Photography: Nathan Kirkman
Styling: Diane Ewing