When Jess and James Milburn bought their Oak Park house in 2016, they were returning to the suburb where James, who owns a commercial demolition business, grew up. Looking to put down roots for their family, which at the time included three little girls, they wanted a house they could makeover and make their own.
They found it in 412 N. Scoville Ave., an American foursquare-style home that was built around 1893. The home had been well tended by its previous family, but it presented an opportunity to for a makeover that allowed Jess to stretch her design skills.
Victoria Witt of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’s Oak Park office has worked with the Milburns for several years, and helped them find the house in 2016.
“The house was cared for, and a lovely family had raised their three girls there,” Witt said. “At the time that Jess and James closed on the house, they had three girls too, so it was a really nice connection.”
While the house had been well-loved, it needed a refresh, and the Milburns tackled the structural work first, digging out the basement and adding steel beams, on top of all new mechanicals. Witt remarks that making over the house really launched Jess’s design career, and Jess agrees.
Jess reimagined every inch of the home, adding color and wallpaper to make it fit for her family. Along the way, she got bitten by the interior design bug. Today, along with Robin Flaherty, Jess runs North & Madison, a home design firm, and Jess says that remaking her own house planted the seeds of her career.
“The business really started two years ago,” Milburn said. “At the time, we were using the house for commercials and magazines, and it made me think I wanted to do something in this field.”
The kitchen was featured on the New Moms Kitchen Walk, and the garage-turned-Tiki bar had a feature in Chicago Magazine. Land of Nod, now known as Crate and Kids, used the home for a catalogue shoot, and Samsung shot a commercial in the house. HGTV also featured the home in a Christmas shoot, which Milburn recalls as an interesting time.
“They shot the photos in March,” she said. “The previous fall they said that they wanted to do the shoot on March 18, because it was going to snow a lot that day. They used the Farmers’ Almanac to predict the weather for shoots. It worked. It was really almost a blizzard that day.”
While the family only had to be out of the house during the day when it was used for commercial and magazine shoots, Milburn says eventually, the family made the decision to stop opening up their home.
“We had another baby – four girls now — and we got two dogs,” Milburn said. “It was just getting too invasive.”
She joined forces with Flaherty and their firm North & Madison took off. They work with clients throughout the Chicago area and also on e-design, bringing bright colors and fresh design to the area’s older homes, as well as new construction.
While the Milburns intended to stay in their house long-term, Jess says her interest in design had her keeping an eye out for local properties, just for fun. When the couple attended an open house a few blocks away, the temptation was too great, and they decided to put their stamp on a new house in Oak Park.
“I really think they thought they would be in this house forever, but with Jess’s design eye, it was hard to pass up another opportunity,” Witt said.
Witt says the timing was a bit worrisome with the coronavirus hitting the area just as the Milburns were going to list the house.
“We put it on the private listing network, and I was reaching out to local brokers on Sunday,” Witt said. “On Wednesday, we hit the MLS and had a showing that same day. The buyers put in an offer in that night, and Oak Park’s shelter-in-place order went into place Thursday at midnight.”
At the end of the day, Witt says the house sold quickly because it was in great condition and was perfect for the family who put in an offer, but she says the timing will stick with her.
“I don’t think anyone involved will forget the timing,” Witt said. “It was so early on in this crisis. I think we were going to sell this house in spite of the timing, because it has what everyone is looking for: great house with open but defined spaces, beautiful design, location and neighborhood.
Witt concludes, “It is happy news in the midst of a time of uncertainty. That’s one of the things I love about real estate — when you have a meeting of the minds, and everyone wins. None of us knows how long this will last or how it will shake out, but the real estate industry will adapt and keep going in the midst of everything.”