The Before and After Details of an Illinois Historic Renovation

by | Architecture, Before & After, Design & Remodeling, Historic Renovation

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The beauty of old homes is they were built to last forever, so they tend to respond cooperatively to any restoration or upgrades.

We love digging into the renovation of old homes because of what is learned, what is preserved and what is improved. For this project in Highland, Illinois, our client, Al, inherited the family home (above) built by his grandfather in 1912. With the passing of his mother – who lived in the home all her life – he felt it was time to return to his childhood home. But some changes needed to be made before he moved in, and for the house to serve for another 100 years.

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Because the family home needs a lot of loving care and upgrades, we divided the project in two, remodeling the first and second floors of one side of the house. This way, Al can live in the finished half while renovating the other side.

Above are the floorplans for the ground level. Al works in sports media, so needs space for audio/visual pursuits. The first design priority was to convert two unneeded bedrooms into a den and library.

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This was the front bedroom, just off the entry. The work scope for all rooms in this project includes removing wallpaper and flooring down to the original red pine wood plank floors.

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Here is the same room, much improved. The original radiators were stripped and painted to match the wall color, and new windows tighten the energy efficiency. The pine floors were stripped and refinished with a light honey stain. Original baseboards, door and window molding were kept and repaired when possible, or recreated. And here’s where more trim carpentry comes into play.

Note that the entry to the room from the foyer now has a transom window. This detail was inspired by the original transom over the front door, and is now carried throughout the first floor remodel. It brings more light into the rooms, and is so characteristic of early 20th century architecture that visitors assume they were always there!


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Before, it was the front ground floor bedroom.

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And the bedroom becomes a den. There are two interesting items to pay attention to in this photo. First, note the small rectangle directly under the window. When the Mosby production crew removed the wallpaper, they found boarded-up holes under some of the windows. A little research revealed these were originally air circulation vents that could be opened to let hot air escape in the summer, and closed off during cold weather. Our carpenters properly sealed the cavities, and then built frames around them as a subtle nod to the history of the homes heating and cooling architecture.

Second, let’s note that the double-wide transom entry between the den and the new library beyond did not previously exist. That was originally a wall dividing the two bedrooms, and the wall was removed to create an open floor plan between the two re-purposed rooms.

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This before photo was taken while standing in the large eat-in kitchen, looking toward the only entry into the ground floor back bedroom.

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Today, it is a new double-wide entry into the library, which looks natural against the original built-in cabinet, which will remain in place when the kitchen is remodeled during the second phase of this historic renovation project. It’s a fine example of master planning a project in advance, covering all details for the present and future.

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The left wall of the original bedroom was a walk-in closet.

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That wall is now the library’s pass-thru to the front den.

Another aspect of this project was updating the heating and cooling system. The boiler system was retained and upgraded, but the window air conditioning units were jettisoned for central air throughout the entire house. All rooms now have air registers in the floors, and gleaming duct work graces the basement ceiling.

These ground floor rooms are also wired for major audio/visual usage, which required a new electric panel and wiring to handle 21st century media demands.

mosby historic renovation (13)Heading up the stairs to the second story, we from the original floor plan (above left) that there was a back bedroom and a front kitchen. The kitchen was part of a mid-20th century remodel to create an efficiency apartment on the second floor. Because it was no longer needed, it was the perfect opportunity to turn it into a bathroom, creating a master suite.

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An after photo of the second floor bedroom shows paint obscuring a door to the rear balcony, and carpeting hiding the wood floors.

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After refinishing the original pine floor, and patching and repairing walls and trim, it becomes an inviting entry into the new master suite.

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One item we did not need to improve upon is the original light fixture (above), which was kept in perfect condition for over 100 years. Add CFL light bulbs and it’s good for another 100 years!

Take a look at the doorway, above left. That’s new trim work around the door way, and the door itself was salvaged from one of the downstairs bedrooms. This new entry leads into what was previously…

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…an upstairs kitchen. It had been decades since it was used, but since plumbing was already in place it was time to create a master bathroom.

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Here is where the Mosby design team really opened up, creating from scratch a modern bathroom that blends harmoniously with the historic home. Opposite the Kohler toilet in the above photo is a spacious linen closet.

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The walk-in shower’s bench seat and hand-held shower head makes the bathroom accessible. The Wellborn Cabinets, vanity and glass tile backsplash make this bathroom gorgeous.

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And a sliding open a pocket door reveals a generous walk-in closet, which runs the length of the master bathroom!

Al is in the process of moving back into the home he grew up in, and he loves the balance of beloved family history with all the modern amenities he needs. We are happy to serve Al and improve upon his grandfather’s construction, and look forward to renovating the other half of the home in the near future.

How do you respectfully rehab an older home? Q&A with MBA president Scott Mosby.

Do you have an older home you’d like to renovate and update? The design-build team at Mosby Building Arts has the experience and the knowledge to help you with these special historic renovation projects. To get started, call the Mosby office at 314.909.1800 or contact us here.