Matthew Eade came a long way to find his piece of suburbia, but now that he’s found it, he’s working tirelessly to make his Oak Park home the home of his dreams. 

The Melbourne, Australia, native has been living in Chicago since 2014. Like a lot of city dwellers, he says he’s been motivated by recent events to move out of the city. 

“With the pandemic and my late thirties setting in at the same time, buying a home became a priority,” Eade said.

He spent a few weekends looking at homes in Oak Park when he found a home in the 800 block of Gunderson Ave. 

“This was probably the worst home in the worst shape of any I saw,” he said.

That said, he loved the community-minded feeling he got in Oak Park and says he was impressed by the quaint, cookie-cutter neighborhood of the Gunderson Historic District. He closed on the house in August 2020, and while it was apparent the house needed remodeling, he says that the scope of the project increased the more he got to know it.

In 1908, Walter and Amelia Loy purchased the newly-built home from S.T. Gunderson and Sons. Eade discovered that the home had only four owners before he purchased it. The sellers of the home purchased it in 1976 for $43,900 and raised a large family there.

Eade says they’d tackled some projects over the years, but the house was in need of quite a bit of work.

“The support beams had been sinking, so the floor was a bit of a roller coaster,” Eade said. “The electricity was not up to code, and there was no insulation.”

In addition, the home’s original clapboard siding was covered with a layer of asphalt siding, which was itself covered in vinyl siding. Removing the layers will allow him to restore the original exterior look of the house but also made the need for insulation more pressing.

Once he determined that the house needed all new systems, support and insulation, he says, “The level of gut kind of escalated. The budget is twice as much as I planned.”

If he was going to do all of this work, Eade was determined to do it the right way. He hired local architect Kim Smith of Smith Architecture LLC to help with the planning, worked with the Historic Preservation Commission to make sure changes he was making would be OK’d in the historic district and hired Montero Renovations to complete the work on the home.

He originally planned a modern house in a historic shell, but says that the more he learned about the historic Gundersons, the more he wanted to preserve and recreate the historic charm of the house. 

“My rehab goal is to keep as much original character while making the home work for modern living,” Eade said. “Before I researched, I planned to do a really modern redesign, but I changed my approach. I want to save a lot of the character.”

One big goal he had was to create a larger, more open kitchen, which he is accomplishing by encompassing a former porch into the footprint of the kitchen and relocating a powder room under the front staircase. The original parlor will become the dining room attached to the kitchen, and the front living room will remain a welcoming space for guests.

He’s adding a mudroom area by the basement stairs and side entry and says the move helps him preserve windows and views at the back of the house, something he said he’s used to from growing up in Australia where the goal is to bring views of the backyard into the home whenever possible.

Eade is taking pains to preserve historic details throughout the first floor. Gunderson houses often had five stained-glass windows, so he is working with glass artist Alena Cichy to create new stained-glass windows that complement the two original windows that remain. The dining room will have beamed ceilings, and he is repurposing an original pocket door. 

He is also making the rounds at salvage markets looking for period appropriate doors and other items to bring back some history into the home. He found an antique fireplace mantle which will have place of pride in the living room. While he notes that when they were built, the Gunderson houses did not have fireplaces, he really wanted a fireplace.

“The stockings hanging by the fireplace is really kind of the American dream,” Eade said.

On the second floor, much of the footprint will remain the same, but he is reconfiguring the space to create a primary suite and get the laundry facilities up from the basement. Eade uncovered the original bathroom’s Greek-key patterned tile under layers of linoleum. The tile was too damaged to be saved, but he found a supplier who can replicate the historic pattern and colors.

The third floor had been partially finished as the former owner’s suite. It is being altered to provide both a guest suite and a home office for Eade. He’ll add solar panels to provide energy efficiency as well.

This is Eade’s first big renovation project, and he’s more informed now about construction than he ever thought he’d be. 

“I’m learning a lot about every aspect we’ve touched from the steel beam and electricity to the plumbing, HVAC, siding, roofing and fire suppression,” he said.

Eade and his architect have a plan to open up the front porch, preserving the original wide columns and keeping as many details as possible. The front façade’s original diamond-paned windows will be restored, and some vinyl windows elsewhere on the house will be replaced with new windows that replicate the originals.

He’s hopeful that the house will be ready to move into later this fall and that the finished project will be an asset to the neighborhood for another 100 years. An Instagram account for the house, @gundersongut allows historic renovation lovers to follow his progress. 

“I won’t win everyone over completely, but I hope to preserve the character and make it welcome and livable again,” Eade said.

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