In a traditional Oak Park home, there comes a point when a family has to decide to renovate or move. Whether a family is seeking more room for a growing family or more modern conveniences within the shell of a historic home, it is a dilemma faced throughout the community. 

For Nora and Tom Powers, the dilemma was doubled when the parents of young twin girls discovered they were expecting a second set of twins. The Powers loved their 1908 vintage house on south Lombard Avenue, but the prospect of becoming a family of six made them take a second look.

Space crunch

The Powers bought their home in 2011, prior to having children. When they moved from the city, they sought a house that would accommodate their hoped-for, future family. The home suited their needs as a family of four, but with the impending arrival of two more children, they reconsidered.

 “We bought a house that was very old,” Nora recalls. “We loved the character, but it didn’t have the traditional family room of a newer house. We looked at whether it made sense to move within Oak Park, but even with a much bigger price point, we still couldn’t get the space we needed.”

The home’s kitchen had been updated by previous owners, but the Powerses were missing a connection to the backyard from the rear of the house and a family room for gathering and playing. Tom said the decision to add on was easy to make once they took a look at re-allocating space within the existing framework of the house.

“We knew we needed more space,” he said. “With four kids, it would be great to turn the attic family room into a bedroom. That’s what convinced me.”

For Nora, the decision to add a family room meant the children wouldn’t be relegated to the kitchen or basement, and making sure she could see the kids playing while she was in the kitchen was key to adding a family room onto the home.

Design and build

They hired Pete Antonow of Leader Builders to design and build their addition after being impressed with work he had done for friends in Chicago. They researched other options, including using a national design service or another builder who did not offer design services, but in the end chose Antonow for his understanding of older housing stock.

 “What stuck out most was that he understood what our old house was like and worked to match that,” Nora said. “He was big into maintaining the integrity of the home. He realized it was a beautiful 100-year-old home, and you don’t just slap an addition on that.”

Morton Grove-based Leader Builders has been helping homeowners renovate their homes for 28 years. Antonow explained that there are pluses and minuses to working with older homes. 

“These old Victorians are incredibly well built,” he said. “The lumber is huge and very healthy. We rarely find rot. Unfortunately, a lot of add-on work by later owners might not be high quality. You might find that a plumber during the 1960s cut every joist to get new pipes in for a new bathroom. We can get a bad rap if we tell the customer there is something they don’t want to see, but if you find a 300-pound, cast-iron tub with no joist supporting it, it’s possible it might dangle or fall.”

For Antonow, helping the rear of the home match the quality of the front was a driving force in his original plans. 

“It’s a very pretty house, but when they built it, they focused on the front and not the back. There was a shed, a powder room on the back wall, and 10 steps down to the outdoors. There was a nice, remodeled kitchen, but no view of the yard from the kitchen.”

Antonow created diagrams for the remodel, and an architect turned those plans into reality. Along the way, Antonow convinced Tom and Nora to relocate an awkwardly placed powder room on the rear of the house. The room was relatively new but impeded the creation of the best plan for the new family room.

Along with creating a new family room that flows seamlessly from the kitchen and into the backyard, Antonow remodeled the Powers’ master bath. For the Powerses, a big benefit to choosing the design-to-build firm was efficiency. They signed a contract in February 2015 and had a finished remodel by October. Antonow said actual construction time was May through September, and he took care to make the space livable for the young family during construction.

Because they were not remodeling the kitchen, Nora noted, they only lost access to the powder room and rear entry during the remodel. 

“They were able to wall off the kitchen,” she recalled, “and we didn’t have to leave the house other than during the time they were finishing the hardwood floors.”

Worth the hassle

With a brood of two toddlers plus two new babies at home, Tom and Nora are very pleased with the new family room. 

“We use it all of the time,” Nora said. “Our family spends a lot of time all in the same room, and for entertaining, you can be in both the family room and kitchen and all be in the same space.”

The home remains a favorite for Antonow as well. 

“I recently completed a $1.5 million project, but I’m prouder of this one. It’s got more bang for the buck. We were able to give them a great value.”

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