Category Archives: Design

Historic Italian Victorian in Wilmette

AfterKate Thomas has a passion for older homes. She and her family lived in a home built in 1918 prior to moving into their historic Italian Victorian built in 1874 on Park Avenue in Wilmette, Illinois.

“The house was built by Mr. Klem and Mr. McDaniel,” prescribes Kate, “they were founding fathers of Wilmette, who were also good friends. Two of their children married, and they built the house for the kids as a wedding present. It was a big deal at the time; you can still find it in the Trib’s social register [archives]. The county records for the ownership of the house show it was held in the family for a good 100 years. Since then, numerous owners had it for two or three years until we moved in.”

Best Laid Plans

Thomas and her husband had budgeted for upkeep and updates but were challengimage5ed with far more than they had bargained for. A ceiling collapse, plumbing held together with duct tape and socks, stairs kept in place with carpet padding stuffed between the boards and a host of other camouflaged defects kept them busy for the next decade.

After 11 long years of “triage”, Kate was finally ready to paint. “When we bought the house, it was gray with white trim, but it wasn’t until we decided to paint that I really started looking at the trim and realized how much there was of it.”

For help in keeping to the period, Thomas purchased an out of print book on 19th Century Victorian homes online. “There were suggestions for colors that would have been used, so we were able to combine an accurate paint scheme that way.”

image4Color Coordinates

Finding the right combination of trim colors was essential, and further tested by an enclosed porch which had been added in the 1920’s. “So, I had 1874 windows and 1920 windows. The challenge was to keep integrity with two different periods and still have it look good.” She says this is one of the reasons why they chose to work with Fortune because they “understand architectural styles and how to get through 150 years of paint.”

Thomas thinks people don’t truly understand the amount of scraping, prepping and design knowledge that goes into a project like this. “That’s the stuff you don’t see on the surface, and we wouldn’t have had the same result without them.”

image2 (2)The Fortune team painted test swatches on all four sides of the house so Kate could see how the colors would look in various types of light and different vantage points. “We went through $64 of paint samples – that might have been some of the best money spent on the whole project.” (Kate also spent time walking the aisles of Loomcraft looking for fabrics with the same colors in them and used material samples to help narrow down the choices.) “We tested it together; Alejandro [from Fortune] would paint a patch of trim, and we’d talk it over. You really have to listen to the consultants who know more than you do about these things. You can’t wing it.”

Not wanting to be “someone’s learning curve”, Thomas confides she had watched a local Fortune project in the works while driving her daughter to camp each day before making initial contact with them. She thinks finding a reliable company to paint newer or less complicated homes should be fairly easy, but advocates, “It takes someone with serious experience to pull off a project of this nature. The staff was a pleasure to work with and we could not have been happier.”

Paying It Forward

When the Thomas family is ready for their next move, they want to pass the house on in better shape than they found it. “It’s one of the oldest houses in Wilmette, and it’s important to take the time, do the research and preserve it. Part of this is about neighbors, it means a lot to the history of the neighborhood.”

Equally important to Kate is that the next buyers will treasure the home and continue to save it from tear down. “Older homes don’t have that Brady Bunch layout, but just because a home is older doesn’t mean it’s disposable!”

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Victorian Architecture and the Painted Lady

Victorian style homes were first built in the early 1800’s. Architecturally speaking, the term “Victorian” is significant to numerous styles and materials which came out of the Victorian era when Queen Victoria ruled Britain. Generally constructed of wood, brick and/or stone, Victorian architecture is synonymous to elaborate detail.

Victorian Octagon in Barrington, Il

Victorian Octagon in Barrington, IL

The Victorian Profile

The most common traits of Victorian homes are: bay windows, wood or metal trim, textured walls, decorative brick work, scalloped shingles, steep rooflines with multiple gables facing different directions, wrap around porches with ornamental spindles, and round or octagonal towers with steep pointed roofs. Usually two stories, Victorians were also often built with third floors.

The most recognized designs of the Victorian period are Italianate, Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Folk Victorian, Shingle, Stick, Empire, Romanesque, Eastlake, and Octagon. Of these, the most difficult style to find today is the Octagon [eight sided], first built in the mid 1800’s to improve “ventilation and light”.

Romanesque Victorian - Corner of Dearborn & Ontario, Downtown Chicago

Romanesque Victorian on the corner of Dearborn and Ontario in downtown Chicago.

People often think of Victorians as being large ornate wood sided homes, but Victorian architecture may also reflect pastoral and castle like influence. One of the most locally famous examples of this is a Romanesque style historic landmark in Chicago. Designed by local architect, Henry Ives Cobb, the 632 N. Dearborn building was constructed of stone in 1892 and originally occupied by the Chicago Historical Society. This gargantuan-sized Victorian housed numerous businesses through the years, most recently, nightclubs.

What Makes a Painted Lady?

Known for their multi-color painted grandeur [three colors or more], Painted Lady Victorians rose to prominence during the San Francisco Gold Rush of 1849. When the population ballooned from 800 to 25,000 in a year, Victorian styles expanded in mass meeting the demand for new housing.

Victorian lined street in San Francisco

Victorian lined street in San Franciso

San Francisco remains one of the most iconic areas where Victorian Painted Ladies reside in number to date. Surprisingly, these homes weren’t officially called “Painted Ladies” until coined as such by authors Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen in their 1978 book, Painted Ladies – San Francisco’s Resplendent Victorians.

In the 1880’s, Queen Anne Victorians came into high fashion. The often bright colors used on the numerous architectural details of Queen Annes, make them one of the most highly recognizable Painted Lady styles today.

Restored Victorian in Chicago's historial Kenwood district.

Restored Victorian in Chicago’s historial Kenwood district.

The Victorian building craze continued as late as the 1940’s in Midwest farming communities. Affordable at their onset, building these types of homes today would be unaffordable for the masses.

Find Your Victorian Groove

Beautiful as they are, Victorian homes are a headache for some. Odd floorplans, smaller rooms and tiny closet space compared to most twentieth century homes, will likely dictate the need for reconfiguration. Interior repairs, such as wiring and other like items, may also be needed.

Rule of Thumb When doing repairs and upkeep on historic and older homes, look for architects and contractors with experience tied directly to the time period the house was built – their cumulative knowledge base will prove invaluable to getting these types of jobs done correctly and accurately.

Outside of San Francisco, you can find Painted Ladies in cities like Chicago, New Orleans, St. Louis and numerous other towns across the U.S. If you love these architectural styles and don’t mind the upkeep, you should be able to find the Victorian of your dreams in most any city.

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4 Outdoor Living Trends This Summer

6.2RooftopOutdoor living spaces have grown in popularity as an extension of the home. The challenge of making your patio look more like the inside of your house has designers, contractors and homeowners thinking out of the box on a grand scale today.

Yards, decks and roof tops are being used to their utmost potential. (There are more than 80,000 roof top patio designs currently posted on Houzz.com!) Four of the hottest outdoor living trends this summer is seating, heating, lighting, and cooking.

6.2Furniture

Stylish Seating

Gone are the days of decorating with a few patio chairs around an umbrella table. The line between outdoor and indoor furniture is getting tougher to distinguish, especially with the use of upholstered pieces outside.

Fade and weather resistant fabrics that are not only durable, but also washable, have made outdoor patios as comfy as our living rooms. Built in seating options, such as ledges, benches, steps, and boulders, are also quite popular and can double as beautiful landscapes too!

All Fired Up

One of the hottest trends in patio anchors is the outdoor fireplace or fire pit. Outdoor 6.2Fireplacefireplaces add ambiance and value to your outdoor space and warmth on chilly evenings.

You can instantly give your patio an upscale look with a customized fireplace and mantle using brick, stone or wood. Fire pits also offer a cozy respite. Current designs may include decorative stone, marble and/or fire resistant brick and can be gas or wood burning.

There are a wealth of outdoor fireplaces and pits on the market. A quick search for “outdoor heating” at HomeDepot.com will give you a feel for the many varieties and styles available today. You may also consider working with a professional masoner to custom build your perfect outdoor look.

6.2Lighting

Get Lit

Multiple layers of outdoor patio lighting is all the rage this summer —it will give your outdoor space a welcoming, finished and secure feeling.

Begin with the perimeter of your outdoor space by filling the area with wall mounted ambient lighting and/or ceiling fixtures when applicable.

Create additional layers of light for the cooking and seating areas and along the landscape lines and paths. Use rope and string lights, candles, sconces, lanterns and solar pieces to create a warm and inviting glow.

Stir the Pot

6.2grillOutdoor cooking is being fed by the popularity of cooking shows, “foodies” and easy access to the plethora of culinary information on the web.

One of the hottest trends in outdoor cooking is the Kamado style grill or smoker. Based on ancient technology, most Kamado grills are made from ceramics, able to retain heat for long periods of time. The significant advantage in cooking with the Kamado or ceramic grill/smoker oven is that your meat will be unbelievably moist and tender.

Other niceties such as refrigerators, stoves, brick ovens, wet bars, and sinks are also big. Outdoor Kitchens are the cornerstone of today’s outside living, cooking and entertaining trends.

Bringing the indoors outside is a transition that continues to evolve and gain popularity. From kitchens and furniture to stylish lighting and cozy fireplaces, applying inside amenities to outdoor living is on trend.

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