Victorian home at 218 S. Elmwood Ave. | Courtesy of VHT STUDIOS

They say that kitchens and baths sell homes, but all too often it’s these rooms that require the most work when a house hits the market in Oak Park. 

With the village’s historic housing stock, it’s the rare home that has not undergone multiple renovations during its lifespan. But, flipped properties aside, most homes aren’t put on the market in a completely remodeled state. 

It’s not unusual for homes to be marketed needing an update to a 1990s kitchen or a complete gut of a 1950s bathroom. Local kitchen and bath designer Denise Hauser recently listed her Victorian home at 218 S. Elmwood Ave., and she used her own home as testing lab for her designs. The new owner will benefit from her classic updates and careful stewardship of the home. No kitchen or bath reno necessary.

After working for years in high-end clothing design, Hauser decided to take her eye for detail to a different kind of design and in 2004 began a second career. She formed Sagewood Design LLC, and focused on historic renovations of investment properties in and around Oak Park. 

After working as an independent contractor on kitchen and bath designs, she decided to form her own business focused on kitchen and bath remodels in 2008, and Denise Hauser Design Co. was born.

She says that when she switched careers to allow herself more time at home with her children, she also discovered her passion. 

“We started rehabbing houses, and I loved the interior design part of it,” Hauser said. “I decided to focus on kitchen and bath design. As an architecture buff, I think we’re so blessed in Oak Park to have beautiful vintage details. It’s good to work with what we have and honor the details.”

Over the years, Hauser has had many projects, including her own home, featured on the Parenthesis Kitchen Walk and in national publications. In her professional life, she lets the style of the home contribute to the style of the kitchen, whether it’s a mid-century modern design or farmhouse remodel. 

She followed the same dictate in her own home, which required a bit of work when she and her family moved in.

Victorian makeover

Her family moved into the 1890s era home in 2006 and found plenty of projects for Hauser to turn her attention to. She said Victorians can be dark and stuffy and that she wanted to open up the space to bring in natural light. In addition, the house had been added onto by previous owners in the 1980s, but the work was too modern to mesh well with the rest of the house.

She treated her own home as she might that of a favorite client and thought about ways to combine what the family needed with the home’s original style. 

“My love is restoring these homes and bringing back original details in a modern way,” Hauser said.

As she tackled a makeover of the rear of the house that included the kitchen, dining room, family room and screened porch, she was careful to be true to the Victorian style while making things work for her family of four.

One focus was bringing more light into the space and using more period-appropriate windows and doors. She replaced four plain doors in the family room with two sets of French doors with transoms. 

Custom windows over the sink in the kitchen are topped with leaded-glass transoms, which mimic the design of windows in the front of the home. 

Between the kitchen and dining room, Hauser replaced a wall that had divided the two rooms with a wall of cabinets. With glass fronts on both sides, the new wall allows light to flow between the two rooms. On the dining room side, the cabinets look like part of a period built-in.

She used the new woodwork to tie the back of the house to the original details in the front. The wainscoting she added in the dining room is an exact replica of the wainscoting in the entry foyer. In family room, wood trim was custom milled to match the trim in the front of the house. 

“We wanted to bring the style of the front to the back of the house,” Hauser said.

She reused original pocket doors to be the doors for the two closets in the family room. On the wood-paneled refrigerator, she created a custom applique design that mirrors the pattern found on the original door knobs throughout the house.

Hauser also turned her eye for detail to several other projects in the house, including new cedar shingles and exterior paint, a new children’s bathroom on the second floor, a new powder room on the first floor and an updated second-floor laundry room.

Even the outdoor room, the screened porch, got a makeover with new siding and French doors. 

“This is one of our favorite parts of the house,” Hauser said. “We live out here.”

While she has worked on almost every part of the house, Hauser says another favorite aspect is an original detail that would be almost impossible to replicate today. 

“I love the six stained-glass windows on the front leading up the stairs,” Hauser said. “To me, they are like flowers.”

As Hauser’s children have grown, she and her husband are looking forward to a different stage in their lives, but she says that love of the push and pull between modern and old will keep her in the area for personal and professional reasons. 

“This house has a lot of soul,” Hauser said. “It has character. To me, that’s what’s fun to restore. Most of my work is here, and that’s why I’m staying here. I love these old homes.”

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