From Aging Diva to Neighborhood Star

Grayslake, Ill., is a typical ex-urban community, located about 40 miles north of Chicago’s bustling downtown. With its easy commuter-rail connections to the city, it’s the kind of town that grew quickly in the early-to-mid 1990s, when cul-de-sacs were replacing cornfields in the outskirts of major metropolitan areas across the United States. Almost 20 years on, now, many of those homes are starting to show their age — but, as the owners of this remodeled residence (and any number of Hollywood stars) have learned, the right facelift often can make even the most dated dowager look fresh again.

For these owners, a simple nip-and-tuck job wouldn’t be enough. In fact, the remodeled exterior retains only the massing of the previous faade — otherwise, the updated home is nearly unrecognizable from its former self. While “before” photos document a home with pretensions of grandeur, complete with decorative (and non functional) shutters and a Georgian-style doorway, the renovated residence is comfortably approachable, drawing on some of the Prairie-style elements for which the Chicago area is known. Mike Macek, co-owner of Rolling Meadows, Ill.-based Elite Remodeling Group — the plastic surgeons behind this two-story makeover — says the clients were seeking an updated design that would stand out among the surrounding homes in the subdivision-style development.

“The community the house is in is a 1990s cookie-cutter neighborhood, and these people wanted a little more of a custom look, and we wanted cleaner lines — even for 1995, it was dated,” he says, noting the opportunity his firm saw for bringing the exterior up to today’s aesthetic expectations, and the company’s own high standards. “We turn a typical house into a ‘wow’ house.”

While the $80,000 price tag to update a home that might only bring $400,000 in today’s still-recovering real estate market might have been steep for some customers to swallow, Macek says selling the proposed improvements was an easy process. He made the call himself, bringing along an iPad loaded with RenoWorks software and a full catalog of product information from one of his company’s leading suppliers, Alside’s Preservation line. After taking a few photos of the house, he sat with the owners and clicked his way through to a finished design.

“You can retrofit their existing house with all the products,” Macek says. The owners liked the proposed new look so much, they moved the exterior renovation to the top of their to-do list, above some other improvements they had been considering. “After seeing our design, they actually did the exterior before the interior.”

Material balance

Key to the updated appearance is a balanced mix of materials that helps give the house a sense of pedigree beyond what it might otherwise deserve. Cedar-style siding in a neutral tan is the predominant ingredient, but cladding the garage-topping dormer in cedar-style shakes creates the visual suggestion of a home that has grown over time in the model of, say, a lakeside family cottage. Finally, stone panels wrap around the base of the garage in a high-end touch Macek says is a signature element in many of their projects.

The windows — approximately 30 of them — also add some streamlined style to the home’s new curb appeal. The simple three-over-zero sash design mimics what one might see in a classic Chicago bungalow. Choosing the pattern, though, required a more three-dimensional visual aid than Macek’s iPad could provide, so he and the homeowners used masking tape to mark out the new mullions.

“You can show [homeowners] the pictures, but at the end of the day, they need to know what the project will look like,” Macek says, noting the role such analog tools as masking tape can play, even in today’s digital design environment. “That tape was on there until we removed the windows.”

The beauty of this updated design is more than skin deep. In the three weeks or so Elite Remodeling Group took to complete the job, the company also significantly improved the home’s energy efficiency. The high-end siding incorporates polystyrene foam insulation molded to the underside of each panel, providing an R-5 insulation value, even when installed over simple building wrap. And the new windows are triple-paned, with krypton insulating gas, boosting energy performance even further.

“Their utility cost was probably cut by 25 percent,” Macek says. Though this kind of efficiency improvement wasn’t a primary goal of the owners, he adds, “it was a benefit we brought to the table.”

Neighborhood standout

The upgraded exterior has become a standout in the neighborhood, according to Macek and fellow Elite Remodeling Group co-owner, Sam Patel. It also has become a flagship project in the company’s advertising efforts, and has been profiled in a Chicago-area home-improvement television show. In one wise move that has proven to be particularly profitable, the company sent reps door-to-door with flyers on the day the television crew was filming.

“We probably sold another couple hundred thousand dollars on that day alone,” Macek says, adding the company now likely has done a total of $500,000 worth of business in the surrounding neighborhood since completing the original project. This success raises an obvious question: How much can the original project stand out, now, when so many surrounding homes have had similar facelifts?

“Not everyone is willing to spend $80,000 on a $400,000 house, and there were a lot of houses that only did windows or siding,” Patel says. So, this exterior remodel remains an aspirational example for many other neighborhood owners. “The majority of work we do is 1990s houses — we want to have people look at that job and know what’s possible.”

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