When it comes to Chicago home renovation, there’s a lot more to the story than just tearing down walls and fitting new finishes. Chicago is a city that is wonderfully rich with history, which adds a layer of complexity in the world of home construction: historic and landmarked buildings.
Seeing as there aren’t many empty lots to build on in our area, we often work with existing structures to do large-scale home renovations and give outdated homes a major facelift. When that existing structure has been deemed an official landmarked building, there are several more hoops to jump through and rules to abide by during the renovation process.
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks was established in the 1960s as a way to preserve Chicago’s history and character. The committee reviews all proposals for any alterations to “historically or architecturally significant” buildings (of which there are MANY in our city!) and has rigorous guidelines on what is and is not allowed to be changed. Middlefork has worked with the Landmark Commission on several occasions; one of the projects that stands out the most is the Workman Cottage we refurbished in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago.
Old Town is an especially historic neighborhood due to its proximity to the Great Fire of 1871, so we knew going into this project that it was going to take a great deal of coordination between ourselves, the homeowners, and the Landmark Commission in order to transform this house into the modern home the homeowners had been dreaming of while maintaining its historic charm.
Before starting any actual construction, we began working with a historical consultant to find photos of homes from the late 1800s (ideally, this specific home, if possible) in the same area that were of similar styles. These photos not only served as design inspiration but also guided what materials we could use for this project. The Landmark Commission requires that anything that is replaced on the exterior of the home has to be done so with era-consistent styles and materials, such as the style of windows, doors, paint colors, and so on. Once we pieced together the design updates and materials, we were then required to submit plans to the Landmark Commission, as well as build a mock-up of any additions to the home for physical review to obtain Landmark’s approval, which is required as part of the building permit process.
One of the rules set in place by the Landmark Commission is that the street-facing facade can’t be altered from the original design. One of our early schematic designs considered a third-floor addition to the rear of the home. However, while walking on the sidewalk across the street from the home, the mock-up of the proposed addition was visible from the sidewalk for a split second and, therefore, was denied by the Landmark Commission!
We scraped out the interior of the existing home back to the original exterior brick walls, demolishing all of the existing structure except for the façade and the front 28 feet of the north and south exterior walls, which dated back to the original 1890 structure.
We dug and underpinned the basement and then built a new 4,500 square-foot home behind the restored facade. The new home included new floor systems throughout, new windows, HVAC systems, plumbing, electrical, low voltage and other state-of-the-art systems throughout.
Despite the tedious processes that can sometimes come along with renovating Landmarked homes, it’s ultimately a process we have come to enjoy! It’s an honor to get to refresh a piece of Chicago history one home at a time. You can view the full project in our portfolio and if you are interested in renovating a historic home in Chicago, contact us to get started!