Home renovation

How to Accept Uncertainty During a Home Renovation

Owners Logan Steiner and David Smith kept the style of their 1920s bungalow intact by refinishing the original fir floors and adding simple moldings around the windows. The vintage fiberglass table and mid-century credenza in the dining room pair well with the brass Ziyi chandelier from Visual Comfort and the light-up Eames chairs from Design Within Reach. Photo by Olesja Allen


For a Type A couple, renovating a house was never part of the plan – until suddenly it was.

My husband, David, and I are analyzers by nature. Some might even say more than-analyzers. He is an economic consultant; I am a lawyer. Our work requires us to sweat the details, but our tendencies to scrutinize also carry over into the hours after work. For example, the contents of my closet are color-coded and my storage containers are labeled, David carefully weighs the cost and benefits of each purchase, and our friends tease us about our detailed vacation itineraries. We even make time for spontaneity. So imagine our surprise when, in the summer of 2018, we found ourselves negotiating a real estate deal at a Winter Park campground—with spotty cell service—for a century-old bungalow we never planned on looking at in the first place. .

This unusually impulsive decision was the result of our pursuit of a little less “doing” and a little more “being” in life. For nearly 10 years we loved living in our little high-rise apartment in downtown Chicago, but over time we grew tired of the concrete jungle lifestyle. We would often travel to Denver, where we would catch up with friends before escaping into the mountains to camp, hike, or snowshoe. These moments in nature connected us to the “being” part of life, and the longer we experienced them in Colorado, the more we didn’t want to leave.

So finally, we decided to stay. One morning in June 2018, we drove to the West Wash Park neighborhood — an area that would offer our desired mix of urban amenities and quieter residential vibe, according to a year of research on Redfin — to meet our real estate agent and visit a few houses. When we pulled up, we noticed a for sale sign in front of a 1922 bungalow. The immediate appeal we both felt for the classic handcrafted beauty of the house surprised us. Our realtor had a show that afternoon, and when we walked inside, we fell in love with the original crown molding, living room arch, fireplace surround Rookwood Pottery and 8 foot tall windows that flooded the main floor with light.

The only problem: it would take a full renovation to tick the boxes on our carefully considered home buying checklist. Although remodeling a home was never part of our plan, we trusted our intuition and took that uneven call to Winter Park a few days later to close the deal.

The work begins

The biggest challenge of the entire renovation was choosing a contractor. Several proposals included opening the roof or expanding the footprint, which would have changed the house’s understated style, something we loved. (Our years of modest living in Chicago had taught us the virtues of minimalism.) Eventually, we met local design-build company Original Roots. Their team not only shared our commitment to preserving the original character of the home and maximizing the existing space, but they also had an open, detail-oriented style of communication that matched ours (think: beautiful detailed worksheets !).

Our plan of attack was to develop a layout that met all of our needs for space and flow within the current envelope of the house. We removed a staircase to make room for a third bathroom, added a master suite, knocked down the wall separating the kitchen from the dining room and living room, and gutted and refurbished the basement to create more of living space. (It turns out that our analytical tendencies helped us find joy in knowing the house in every detail, literally. David mentions again the two extra inches he “found” for our bathroom shower. main.)

No renovation is complete without setbacks: we were hoping to uncover and preserve the original kitchen floor, but we discovered asbestos tiles glued to it. A day before we were planning to pour concrete in the back yard, our clay sewer line broke. And let’s just say we got a lot of practice navigating tense conversations about which projects to prioritize in order to stay within our budget. Throughout the process, we learned the importance of giving up control from time to time. Some days required us to throw away our checklists and make quick decisions; others just required a good sense of humor.

As I look around the house now, I revel in the old and new design that has stood for a century. With the grit and dust behind us, we can fully appreciate the house that retains its historical roots while being uniquely ours – a place that encourages a little less to ‘do’ and a little more to ‘be’.

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2021 issue of 5280 Home.