Riverside couple Caren and Nicholas Isopo have been working together to re-design older homes for two years, and recently turned their eyes to their first Oak Park project. Taking on a run-down bungalow in northeast Oak Park, they transformed the house into a full two-story farmhouse with modern conveniences and a charm they say suits the historic housing stock of Oak Park.
Their company is called Safe & Sound Investments, and with Caren as the designer and Nicolas as developer, the duo says their mission is to provide “bespoke homes with modern details and refined finishes that are inspired by the character of each structure’s original era and location.”
In combing through real estate listings to find a home appropriate for a flip project, the Isopos were conscious of all the pluses Oak Park offered. Caren’s mother grew up on Taylor Avenue in Oak Park and they knew buyers in Oak Park would appreciate their vision of home.
“This area is a really progressive area to get into,” said Caren Isopo. “There are great school districts and parks everywhere. We feel like we’re revitalizing the area a bit.”
Linda Von Vogt of Baird and Warner, who is listing the remodeled property for $749,900, said that the northeast neighborhood of Oak Park is a good place for a home overhaul due to the ability to start from the ground up.
“One of the advantages to this area is that you avoid the tremendous amount of restrictions that you might have in the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District,” Vogt said. “That really allowed Caren to use her vision on the home.”
Being your own boss
As a designer in the hotel industry for a decade, Caren knew the ins and outs of design but was looking for a career with less time on the road after the arrival of her second child. When Nicolas suggested they pair up on a real estate adventure, she was game and knew they had something unique to bring to the development sphere of the near western suburbs.
For Caren, the career move’s benefits were two-fold.
“Our overall goal was to create a business for our family and to feel like we’re putting really spectacular homes on the market,” she said.
“Recently, we were homebuyers for our own family too. We understood that feeling of wanting to put our stamp on a place but not do too much work. Every new construction project we were seeing out there was just basic Home Depot. When you come in this house, it doesn’t feel like a cookie cutter house.”
While she focuses on the design side of the business, creating mood boards and concepts for each home they renovate, Nicolas is focused on the acquisition of houses. Caren says that Oak Park is a very busy market for flippers, and it can be competitive to find the right house for a project. Nicolas trawls the MLS listings, and with the help of Von Vogt found this house, ripe for a makeover, in the summer of 2016.
Listed at $205,000 in 2016, 837 N. Taylor Ave. was a wood-frame bungalow that had seen better days. For the Isopos, it represented the perfect entry into the Oak Park market.
Built in 1917, the bungalow had been renovated over the years but did not stand the test of time. The Isopos took the home down to its foundation and built a new house in its place, complete with a front porch, open floor plan first floor, full second story and full basement level.
“In hospitality, you always have a concept or a purpose behind the design,” said Caren Isopo, drawing on her hotel design background. “I usually research the history of the street or the home to come up with a design plan. This house didn’t have a specific background, so I turned to Oak Park as a whole for inspiration.”
As she learned about Oak Park’s early settlers, the Kettlestrings, she created a European-style farm house scheme. She then chose accents influenced by the metropolitan feel of Chicago with industrial touches such as dark metals and wire-mesh finishes on light fixtures.
Conscious of who a typical buyer might be for a five-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom house, Caren created a home suitable for a family but with the artistic style people might expect from Oak Park.
With a style she calls “BoHome,” she relied on quality high-end brands such as Rejuvenation, Restoration Hardware and Viking for key pieces in the home. While the neutral interiors in tones of white, black and gray allow the home to become the buyer’s canvas, she sourced tile and hardware that give the home a unique feel.
The kitchen’s farmhouse sink, subway tile and globe pendants over the island offers the style buyers are looking for, and the attached family room and access to the deck make the room suitable for entertaining guests and family. A first-floor office space is separated from the dining room with French doors.
On the second floor, two children’s bedrooms feature built-in window seats looking out into the tree tops. The kids’ bathroom is playful with a patterned cement tile floor. The master suite includes a walk-in closet with custom built-in cabinetry.
A dressing area leads into the master bathroom, which is floored in Italian ceramic tile and features a double-sink vanity and a large shower. A second floor laundry room also features custom cabinets.
The full basement level offers plenty of room for a playroom and storage as well as a fifth bedroom and full bathroom. All new mechanicals include dual-zoned HVAC systems and a tank-less water heater.
At the end of the day, Caren Isopo says they have really changed the way the house lives.
“Before, it was very closed off,” she said. “We tried to capitalize on the outdoors with the open porch and access to the backyard.”