Typically, when real estate agents hire a photographer to get professional photos of a home, it’s when they are listing the home for sale. For Compass Realtor Julie Stanczak, her clients’ purchase of 224 N. Elmwood in Oak Park was anything but typical. 

Her clients bought the home during the challenging pandemic period, and the home was not exactly the single-family home of their dreams. Instead, they bought a two-flat that needed a complete overhaul before they were able to move in almost two years after their purchase. The result was so remarkable that Stanczak gifted them with professional photos of their new home shortly after they moved in. 

Built in 1873, the home was originally a Queen Anne Victorian-style home, complete with a turret. About 30 to 40 years after it was constructed, the home was encased in stucco in an attempt at a Prairie Style makeover. The building also became a two-flat and housed two rental apartments when Don and Kim Vander Griend first saw it in the spring of 2021. 

The fact that the building was a two-flat and not the single-family home they were looking for did not deter them. As Don recalled, “In 2021, the real estate market was mayhem.”

Stanczak agreed. “We put in offers on six different homes. It was a time of rapidly evolving change in pricing. They were very competitive, but we got beat out by developers offering cash,” she said. “Escalation waivers and appraisal gap waivers became a thing.”

When 224 N. Elmwood hit the private listing network, Stanczak said, “They saw it first and put in an offer. It finally worked.”

With three children and a menagerie of pets, the Vander Griends knew they were going to convert the two-flat back to its single-family home status. The brought in architect Bill Scholtens of Elements Architectural Group, contractor Brian Manola, millwork and kitchen expert Lee Ann Anderson and designer Kristina Bailey to coordinate the project.

The Vander Griends honored the existing tenant’s lease while planning the project and began work in April 2022.

The Atlanta-based Bailey had worked with them on their previous Oak Park house, and she was involved in the Elmwood house from the framing stage forward.

Don said that old Chicago Record-Herald newspapers found inside the walls point toward 1914 as the year the home’s front porch was enclosed and the exterior encased in stucco. While unsightly, the stucco ended up preserving a lot of elements such as original windows.

They worked hard to preserve what original elements remained, while Bailey set to work to make the home live like a single-family home for a modern family.

“The house had a lot of division,” she said, adding “we had to make a lot of changes.”

The staircase had to be moved and brought up to code. Along the way, they discovered an original stained-glass window that was restored and relocated to the new stair landing. More original windows flanking the front parlor fireplace were uncovered and restored. Original ceiling beams were also highlighted and saved.

Don noted they stayed within the home’s original footprint while renovating most spaces. The kitchen was opened up, with a rear enclosed staircase becoming part of the finished space. A piano nook is wrapped in a botanical wallpaper, and a mudroom makes busy family life a lot neater.

On the second floor, a few rooms were combined to create the primary suite. A fireplace with more original stained glass graces Kim’s home office. A walk-in closet and a large bathroom with a soaking tub round out the space.

Two more bedrooms for the kids share a second-floor bathroom decorated with colorful tile and a blue vanity.

The staircase to the third floors sports framed artwork by the children. A family gathering space on the third floor is perfect for sleepovers. This floor also houses a fourth bedroom and another full bathroom.

A secret hallway leads to a finished space within the home’s turret — a perfect place for the kids to tuck away in the house with a view of the trees.

After using Stanczak to sell their previous Oak Park home on Clarence Avenue, the Vander Griends moved into a rental while the construction on their new home was finished. They’ve been in their new house for a few months and said it is all they hoped it would be and more. 

Don noted that Bailey was integral into making the house live well. She provided furniture choices that didn’t break the bank, while also making custom choices that fit the house, such as a custom banquette that fits the curved turret and a Kristina Bailey original painting in the family room.

Bailey said the house was a true collaboration. She called Anderson a “kitchen whiz” and praised the architect and builder. Stanczak’s expertise was also key to letting the owners know how to best improve the home without over-improving for the local market.

Bailey summed it up.

 “It took a lot of creativity, a lot of trust. You come up with exponentially better ideas when you have a team. You bring out the best in the house.”

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