When we last visited 828 Gunderson Ave. in Oak Park during the summer of 2021, new homeowner Matthew Eade was up to his elbows in a gut renovation of his historic home. The first-time historic homeowner was determined to honor the history of the house but also wanted to update the house to make it live more like a modern house.
He recently received an Oak Park Historic Preservation Award for residential restoration, which he says makes the two years of construction seem worth it.
“It was nice to have some sort of recognition of what we did because the renovation wasn’t easy,” Eade said. “There were many points where I could have gone cheaper and easier, but I wanted to stay true to the house.”
For example, both Eade and his contractor assumed that the original hardwood floors were a standard 2.25 inches wide in red oak. But when it came time to fill in the gaps and match the old floors in new spaces, they realized the floors actually were a slimmer 2 inches in width.
According to Eade, it would have been cheaper and faster to replace the flooring throughout the house with new, standard-width flooring, but he wanted to keep the original flooring.
It took a special order and a delay of five weeks to get the custom flooring, pushing back cabinet installation and painting, but now that he’s on the other end of the project, Eade says it was worth it to keep with the historic style.
Throughout the house, Eade made similar decisions, choosing to rehabilitate original windows with their distinctive diamond pattern. Pedestals originally located between the home’s double parlors were saved. He noticed that they bore markings where columns might have been, so Eade salvaged some columns to use atop the pedestals. They now stand marking the entrance from the foyer to the front living room.
He sought out more salvaged materials to add back some of the character that had disappeared from the house since it was built in 1908. He found six-paneled doors to match the original doors in every room and purchased antique light fixtures for many rooms as well.
A living room fireplace surround was sourced from the daughter of a Chicago firefighter who told Eade her father saved the antique piece from a building that was being torn down. New stained-glass windows were inspired by original stained-glass windows that remained in the house.
Along with adding the character back to the house, Eade updated other areas, such as a modern kitchen that opens to a new family room. A mudroom features custom cabinetry.
On the second floor, he created a primary suite with its own bathroom and updated the hall bathroom with tile that features the Greek key pattern original to the hall bath.
Originally, Eade had no plans to tackle the exterior of the house, but when porch repairs necessitated removing some of the vinyl siding, he noticed that the original wood siding was in fairly good condition, so he made the decision to remove the vinyl and restore the original wood.
No good deed goes unpunished, however, and he says that once the vinyl was removed, it was clear that quite a bit of repair had to be done on the sides of the house. He found a supplier in Indiana who could exactly match the original wood.
Eade used an infrared paint stripper to peel away decades of paint to reveal the original exterior color scheme. He color-matched the paint and repainted the home in the original shade of green with red trim.
“When I came into this project, it was all going to be modern farmhouse style: black and white everywhere,” Eade said. “But the more I learned, I just couldn’t do it.”
After moving into the house last September, Eade acknowledges he still has projects on his to-do list including a deck, storm windows and landscaping, but he has plenty of time to tackle the next steps.
For both Eade and his general contractor, this was their first project of such a large scope in an historic home, and he says there was a learning curve involved. Add in lumber and labor shortages due to the pandemic and rising costs of materials, and he says the restoration was both financially and personally a painstaking process.
“Immediately after we’d finished, I don’t know if I’d say it was worth it,” he said with a rueful laugh. “The saying that time heals all wound is very true though, and now I think it was worthwhile.”
Susie Trexler, Urban Planner with the Village, agrees that the house was worth the effort. She states, “The homeowner and the architect for 828 Gunderson Ave brought a lot of care, knowledge, and interest in the house’s history to their restoration project, which you can tell from the end result. They attended an Architectural Review Committee meeting prior to attending the Historic Preservation Commission in order to flesh out some of the details and ensure the project was done appropriately. One of my favorite things about the Gunderson Historic District is that there is a wealth of information and examples of historic designs since it was a historic development. This can be very helpful for homeowners undertaking restorations.”