The sign on Kathy Capone’s front door reads, “Ring Bell and Win a Dog,” and it’s not really a joke. The devoted Animal Care League volunteer regularly fosters dogs, and at last count the total number of fosters housed over her family’s 32 years in the house topped 300. 

As she opens the door for a tour, Harriet, the current foster, joins in to give a tour of the recently renovated digs.

Over their three decades in the 1925-era home Kathy and her husband, Jim, had tackled many projects, including redoing their kitchen, but it wasn’t until last year that they made structural changes to the home. 

Their addition of a master suite bathroom with the aid of architect Debra McQueen and contractor Pam Whitehead of P&P Construction recently was awarded a Historic Preservation Award by the village of Oak Park.

At some point in the home’s past, previous owners added a Tudor-style deck above the first-floor breakfast room. The deck, which was accessible through a door in the master bedroom, had seen better days and appeared to be falling off the rear of the house. 

In her walks through the neighborhood, Capone had seen Whitehead’s work overhauling another home down the street, and she gave her call. Whitehead says she accidentally deleted the message on her phone, but recalled that Capone referenced living on the 900 block of North East Avenue.

“She left a note in every single mail box on the block asking the owners to please contact her if they’d recently left her a message,” Capone said.

Oak Park architect Deb McQueen also joined the team and says that it was immediately apparent that the Capones needed to do something to the deck, and soon. 

“There was this breakfast room with a flat roof, and someone had added a deck over it that was falling apart,” McQueen said. “Kathy and Jim had to do something.”

Since they had to tear off the deck, it seemed like the time was right to make their bedroom into a true suite and add a master bathroom. Capone credits McQueen’s experience with historic architecture for immediately sensing what the house needed in terms of scale and appearance. 

“Debra looks at it, and she instinctively knows what to do in the first one or two minutes,” Capone said. “The balcony was larger than the breakfast room beneath it, and she knew it wasn’t intended to look that way.”

Choosing the right materials

As with all old home renovations, there was a consideration of what materials to choose to get the project done right but also an awareness that some materials cost more than others. McQueen says this was something she, Whitehead and Capone gave a lot of thought to.

“There was a question of materials because the original materials on the house were beautiful,” McQueen said. “There was brick, limestone and integrated copper gutters.”

The group toyed with the idea of doing a stucco addition or adding a parapet style roof to the addition to save money, but at the end of the day, McQueen says that none of those plans were ideal. 

“You could save some money, but you’d regret it for the rest of your life,” McQueen said. “It just wouldn’t have looked right.”

Their attention to detail in the plans and workers’ attention to detail in the implementation resulted in a second-story addition that looks completely original to the house. They used yellow brick on the exterior, and when that proved a not-quite precise match to the original brick, Whitehead had it stained to match. 

Her workers employed the same thin mortar joints found on the rest of the house to make the bricks blend in. They also lucked out and found the tiled roof to the breakfast room still in existence under the demolished deck, and were able to reuse those tiles to roof the new bathroom.

Interior choices

When it came to choosing finishes for the bathroom, Capone says that Whitehead, who rehabilitates six to 10 houses in the area every year, knew the right choices for the era of the home, eliminating the need for a designer.

With a soaking tub, hex tiled floor, and grey beveled subway tiles, the bathroom looks at home in the 1920s house. A standalone shower and heated floors make the room a bit more luxurious that bathrooms from 100 years ago.

McQueen notes that the window choice was another point of collaboration. The Capone house is full of original art glass, and they contemplated having a glass designer come up with a matching pattern, but knew it would be cost-prohibitive. 

With some research, they found a commercial company that made an art glass-like product that suited the room and the style of the home.

Capone, Whitehead and McQueen were all pleased and surprised to find out that the project had been awarded historic preservation recognition. None of them submitted the project for consideration, but they all agree the seamless tie-in of old and new on the exterior was the contributing factor.

Whitehead, who says she regularly showed up on the job site with dog treats in hand to woo Capone’s menagerie, says that finding a good client-contractor fit makes the end product that much better. 

“With a great client, you get great results.”

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