Kate 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 challenged 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.”
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.”
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!”