Some developers might look at a real estate listing for a small ranch house tucked among estate-size homes and instantly consider it a candidate for teardown treatment. Intent on maximizing profit and making their construction crew’s work easier, many developers determine that it is better to raze than to rehabilitate. 

For local builder Pam Whitehead of River Forest’s P&P Ltd., such nondescript homes can be an opportunity. Rather than tear down the two-bedroom, one-story ranch she purchased at 630 N. East Ave. in Oak Park, she worked with the best of what was there and built up, turning the two bedroom home into a two-story, five-bedroom, 4.5-bathroom house. 

After nine months of construction, the made-over home bears little resemblance to the ’40s style ranch. Today, it holds its own among the block’s architecturally significant houses.

Salvaging materials

Whitehead, who has been reimagining local homes for 15 years, says her mantra is to reduce, recycle and repurpose. She said that keeping what she can makes sense on many levels, from emotional to environmental.

“I try to repurpose a home that someone once loved and valued and make it over so that someone new can love and value it again,” Whitehead said.

The 1947 house was a small two-bedroom ranch house that had been added onto over time. While it didn’t have the architectural pedigree of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home next door, Whitehead still found plenty to save. 

“We could have torn it down, but it was a brick house with a full basement,” she said. “That’s a lot to put into a landfill.”

On the first floor, the plan was reimagined to create an open kitchen, family room, dining room and mudroom in spaces that previous owners had used for their bedrooms and family room. The original formal living room in the front of the house was maintained, as was the screened-in porch and garage. The full basement was kitted out with new drain tile, sump pump and overhead sewer to provide another room for family gathering.

Whitehead maintained the original brick exterior, and when she wasn’t able to match the original 1940s brick with the new brick necessary to extend the chimney and fill in holes in the exterior, Whitehead stained the brick on all surfaces to create a cohesive look. She created a “new” set of shutters out of repurposed knotty pine she found at ReUse Depot, and forged headers for the front windows from repurposed factory floor joists.

Creating character

For all of her projects, Whitehead strives to keep up with the character she thinks is inherent in the village. 

“I try to make it a little more interesting than a cookie cutter house,” Whitehead said. “People move here because they value architecture, character and individuality. I feel very privileged to work in this kind of environment in which people value older homes.”

Pointing out the Wright-designed house next door and the significant estates across the street, Whitehead says she wanted this house to fit in and look like houses from the 1910s to 1920s.

Calling the overall aesthetic “European revival,” she took care to create an interesting roof line on the new second story with peaked dormers and had stucco hand-applied to add a timeless texture to the exterior. A new exterior door fits into the European feel, as do the carefully-chosen light fixtures.

On the inside of the house, all of the systems are completely new from electrical and HVAC to the plumbing, water line to the street, reclaimed white oak flooring and roofing. Whitehead designed the living spaces to reflect a freshness and light that people are looking for in homes today.

A first-floor bedroom, currently set up as an office, offers great options for aging in place or a separate guest suite, with its own private, full bath. The open kitchen connects seamlessly to the dining room and family room. High-end appliances, and a large island that seats four make the kitchen a gathering space for a family. A mudroom clad in shiplap has a new half bath and offers easy access to the backyard.

On the second floor, the master bedroom suite on the back of the house gets great light from two exposures of windows. His and hers walk-in closets offer plenty of storage opportunities. The master bathroom includes a standalone limestone tiled shower, a large soaking tub and double-sink vanity. Heated flooring and glass tile accents up the style quotient in the spa-like room.

Another bedroom with an en suite bathroom is located at the front of the house, and two more bedrooms share a Jack-and-Jill bathroom. Whitehead sums up the kids’ bathroom with its blue vanity and colorful wallpaper: “We always like to do fun stuff. Here, we did a little retro style.”

In the upstairs hallway, another favorite room is set off with a set of barn doors. Calling the laundry room “one of the best we’ve ever done,” Whitehead points out the wide floor plan and excess of storage cabinets. A cabinet specifically for folding offers space for four laundry baskets to be stored beneath.

As this project wraps up and Whitehead begins to think about what is next, she will be listing the property in early January for $1,390,000. Anyone interested in a sneak peek can call Whitehead at 312-209-8888.

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