During the early days of their relationship, Mimi and Rick Comerford commuted; she had a house in New Jersey and he lived in Oak Park. When they were able to combine their households in 2016, they sold their two houses and began a search in Oak Park.
Their home-buying journey took them to places they never expected and led to the creation of a home that is unlike any other in the suburb.
The pair enlisted realtor and friend Laura Maychruk to help them find a house.
“We started out thinking we’d get a house in Oak Park. We saw a lot of houses,” said Rick Comerford. “It was like we were buying someone else’s house. We wanted something that was just us.”
Maychruk, whose Buzz Café is located in the Oak Park Arts District, clued them in to an unusual listing. A building that was home to a hair salon and once housed Magical Minds arts studio was hitting the market. Built in 1926, the two storefronts on Harrison Street had apartments built on the second floor sometime in the 1950s.
The couple decided to take on a large-scale restoration and renovation, turning the former arts studio into first-floor living space and connecting the second floor apartments to create bedrooms, bathrooms and a shared entertaining space.
Rick once worked as an architectural draftsman, so he did much of the design himself. He also brought in local architect Frank Heitzman to come up with the plan. When Mimi was having trouble visualizing what the building would look like with the two second floor apartments connected, Rick built her a Lego model of the building, which still holds place of pride on a bookshelf six years after the project ended and they moved in.
The couple first designed a rear building, now home to their art studios, garage and a studio apartment so that they could live in that space while the rest of the construction took place. The three-car garage blocks the courtyard from traffic sounds of I-290 and also features a car lift and charging for electric cars.
The courtyard between the rear building and the Harrison Street building is a New Orleans-style oasis with a fountain and outdoor sitting area. During the renovation, they uncovered two old signs for the tractor supply store that once used the space and left them in the courtyard area.
On the first floor of the main living space, they discovered a wall of brick behind plaster and it forms the focal point of the open kitchen and living room. New support columns were clad in similar reclaimed Chicago-style brick. The original tin ceiling was also restored over this space and matched in the open dining room and bar area. A secret room is tucked away behind a bookshelf and serves as a butler’s pantry.
“We wanted to keep stuff out of the landfill,” Comerford said. “We used over 70% of the existing walls and structures and repurposed wherever we could.”
The garage building has a metal roof with solar panels applied to the roofing. For their efforts, the Comerfords were awarded a Green Award from the from the village of Oak Park.