Grand Old Restoration

ENILWORTH, Ill. — Established as an enclave for Chicago’s elite in 1889, the town where this 11,000 sq.-ft. home sits was a forerunner in the world of suburban development. Kenilworth was one of the country’s first master-planned communities, built on land purchased and sold by one man, Joseph Sears.

Sears designed the town to be a utopian village-of-the-future and no expense was spared to make that plan a reality. Acres of land were set aside not only for numerous churches and a town school but also for its own water filtration plant on the shores of Lake Michigan — a huge capital expenditure for what was and is a tiny population living in only one sq. mile.

But beyond pricey community amenities, the core of Sears’ vision for Kenilworth was to build grand, one-of-a-kind homes to the highest construction standards. Today, block-after-block of most of the original Victorian homes stand proudly, and all remain luxury properties. Very few of the original homes look any worse for the wear. But until its remodel and rebirth, this home (which is officially listed as a Centennial Home by the village), had been an exception to that rule. The 9th home built in Kenilworth and completed in 1892, this grand old colossus would have surely been torn down by a custom home builder had it not been purchased by a remodeler-developer first.

At the end of 2004, when it came on the market, many of its floors had long since sagged. Banks of enormous, old, double-hung windows were in disrepair. All but three windows lacked the original hanging storm windows. The basement was prone to flooding. All of its major systems were outdated. And, on top of all this, the configuration of its rooms was not at all in keeping with the lives led by well-heeled 21st century families.

The home’s original first floor consisted of huge formal rooms with 11-ft. ceilings. A large foyer led to a parlor, a library, a living room, a wrap around side porch and a formal dining room. By comparison to the rest of the first floor, the existing kitchen was not designed for living. It was a place where live-in help prepared meals. It was small and provided very little family space. On the second floor, there were plenty of bedrooms. All were large and airy, but 19th century designers left a lot to be desired with their stingy closets and bathrooms. In particular, the master bedroom and bathroom were small and not up to current standards. The home was in need of a total-gut remodel.

But Greg Gibson and his partners in the project were not daunted by the challenge. They felt strongly that upper-bracket home buyers would pay a premium for the genuine article — a graceful 19th century classic, completely refurbished and restored for another century of uninterrupted use. That the home sits on a premium, half-acre lot on one of Kenilworth’s most desirable streets confirmed the team’s plan to restore and sell it.

A big job

The scope of work to redesign, rebuild and restore the home was large. The detached two-car garage was removed to make way for an addition that would encompass much of the new kitchen, eating area and family room on the first floor. The addition also included a deep basement to accommodate a large theater room.

On the upper floors, skilled demo specialists were brought in to carefully take down walls that would need to be rebuilt after the floors were leveled and strengthened with steel girders. Bronze hardware from all doors and windows — most of it original — were removed to be cleaned and restored. The windows that could be saved were stripped and painted, as were all the interior and exterior doors of the old house.

All mechanical and non-mechanical systems were removed to make way for new copper plumbing, new wiring to accompany a 400-amp electrical service, a low-voltage wiring system for distributed audio/video and lighting controls and several gas-forced-air heating and cooling units placed throughout the home. Out came all of the radiators. In came new places for chases and ductwork. Then, in areas where radiators left holes, scratches or discoloration of the wood flooring, quarter-saw oak flooring was sanded and stained to match existing floor boards. With the demise of the old, deattached garage, CNS designed and built a detached, heated, 3-car garage and carriage house, complete with a granny flat above.

Lastly, pains were taken to ensure that all new spaces would match well with the old spaces. In the granny flat, the newly built-out basement, in the new family room and in a refurbished attic space with 14-ft. vaulted ceilings, hundreds of board ft. of casings, trim and baseboard were milled to exactly match those found in old areas of the home. Kolbe Windows & Doors assisted with custom wood windows (single-pane) and doors that matched originals.

“We approached the restoration of this house as if it was one of our own to eventually live in,” says Gibson. “For lovers of old homes like us, the finished house is exactly the right mix of old-and-new.”

Livability after

Dramatic livability improvements were made to each of the home’s four floors. On the lower level, most of the existing previous space had been devoted to bulky boilers, gravity pipes and storage. Additionally, the space went unused as a result of frequent groundwater seepage. After a new drain tile was installed around the entire interior periphery of the lower level, the seepage problem was solved and an array of functional spaces were designed and built. There is a large billiards room, a play room, a workout room and a temperature-controlled wine cellar with built-in racks. Under the new addition, the basement steps down to a suite devoted to a home theater and entertaining. It includes a bathroom and a wet bar.

On the second floor, a true master suite complete with a working fireplace, sitting room and a larger master bath is the biggest improvement. CNS, along with its design partner, kept the space very minimalist in order to let the original design features shine. In the master bath and in the other secondary bathrooms upstairs, richly detailed tile work above radiant floors also manages to evoke the theme of understated Victorian style alongside modern comforts.

The third floor (attic) is all new livable space. A giant great room is filled with natural light from banks of large windows on opposing gables of the home. The room is designed to be a place for kids to relax, watch TV and do homework, but could easily be a home office or studio. In addition there are two bedrooms, a full bath, a cedar closet and room for storage.

By far, the biggest livability impact of the remodel and restoration was on the first floor. Alongside the spectacular restoration of the formal rooms that herald 19th century style, a spacious new kitchen with light colored marble countertops and cabinets leads to a conjoined great room and eating area that is surely the new heart of the home. It lives 2007 with every bit of the original 1892 authenticity.

CNS declined to discuss its budget for the project, but the home is now offered for $4.7 million and will likely fetch that price. In describing the details of this project CNS’s Gibson shows a passion for the home that is characteristic of the zeal found in many remodelers who work on old homes. It can be safely said that like the plans for the Village of Kenilworth, no expense was spared in restoring this classic American home and it shows.

“You should really see this house at night with all the lights on,” says Gibson. “It is a great house for entertaining. For its size, it is very warm and inviting.”

Download 1st floor plan, 2nd plan and 3rd floor plan (PDF)