When Heidi Ruehle, executive director of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, began brainstorming about ideas for a fundraiser prior to the pandemic, she thought big. She envisioned a local home show modeled along the lines of industry shows held at McCormick Place. 

The new Vintage Home Show would take place in the newly-remodeled Unity Temple to show off the space to local homeowners while also providing access to vendors and professionals whose workshops who would highlight the best of local vintage home services.

Alas, like most good ideas scheduled to take place in 2020, the pandemic put her plan on hold. 

“The intent was to make it live, but obviously, we had to take it virtual this year,” Ruehle said.

The UTRF is partnering with the Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce to host the first annual vintage home show online on Saturday, April 24, but while it may be virtual, the offerings won’t be diminished.

Preservation architect and UTRF board chair for the event Anne Sullivan says it was a lot of fun to pull together experts and vendors for the event. 

“It was an interesting combination of people from the preservation community and the chamber,” Sullivan said of the planning committee. “It was a great group that came at historic homes from all different angles.”

The assembled group will share their expertise with locals, and Ruehle says the whole idea is to help owners of historic homes figure out who and how to take care of and restore their homes by giving them access to people who specialize in the unique issues that historic homes present.

Sullivan adds that the workshop leaders are very experienced professionals in their fields sharing their knowledge. 

“This is a really great way to get access to these people,” Sullivan said. “We’ll have breakout rooms so people can ask their specific questions.”

A few of the workshops Sullivan highlights include Susan Benjamin, an architectural historian who helps people in historic districts take advantage of the property tax benefits available to homeowners in historic districts. 

Neal Vogel will share his expertise on restoring and repairing wood and stained-glass windows. Local architect Frank Heitzman will address how to hire a project team for a remodel or restoration project, which Sullivan calls one of the biggest feats local homeowners face.

Oak Park-based mechanical and electrical engineer Mark Nussbaum will talk about heating and cooling issues in older homes.

Sullivan notes that the list of people leading workshops was intentionally crafted. “There are plenty of tradespeople out there, but not every tradesperson has experience with older buildings,” Sullivan said.

Coldwell Banker realtor Deborah Wess will be taking part in the event and says that, as the homeowner of a local Victorian home and as someone who specializes in helping people buy and sell historic homes, she has a unique perspective to share.

Wess will speak about how local homeowners can maximize their return when restoring their historic homes. 

“We tend to do the things we love to our homes, but your custom upgrade might not be what everyone else loves,” Wess said. “The best thing that people can do to increase the value of their older home is to invest in all the unseen things, like the insulation and the HVAC system. It’s really hard to sell a home without central air.”

Elite Tile owner Tony Buttitta will also be presenting as a vendor. He says he’s been working with tile restoration for over 20 years, including work in Oak Park’s Pleasant Home and many local restoration projects.

“I’ll talk a bit about the history of tile and the craftsmen style of tile that is so prevalent in the area,” said Buttitta, a self-professed history and architecture buff. “I’ll also talk about more contemporary applications.”

Buttitta notes that for so many historic homeowners it is about incorporating new tiles that look like older, original tiles. His work sometimes involves reviving original tiles too. Whether it’s repairing original tile or installing new tile that looks original, he says it’s a really rewarding project.

Radio host Peter Sagal created an introductory video for the Vintage Home Show, and in it he sums up the feelings that so many historic home-dwellers understand. “[B]asically, owning a home in Oak Park is a lifestyle,” Sagal said. “It involves exploration and discipline and fun and the occasional frustration, but it’s something you learn to love.”

How to attend

The Vintage Home Show takes place on Saturday, April 24 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

General admission tickets are $35, with early bird pricing of $25 available until April 9.

Details at www.utrf.org/homeshow or by calling 708-260-6661

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