A couple budgets carefully while renovating a split-level house on Chicago’s North Side.
When attorney Trey Berre and his wife, photographer Maria Ponce Berre, began searching the Chicago real estate listings in 2014, they were looking for land, or at least something to tear down. They imagined building a “forever home” that embodied their love of modern design, particularly midcentury Palm Springs. But when Trey spotted an ad for a 1954 split-level ranch on a corner lot on the city’s North Side, that plan went out the window.
“As soon as I walked in, I knew it had good bones,” he says. The shag carpet and pink bathroom didn’t matter. Instead he saw clean lines and great natural light, a place where he could envision raising their daughters, Fiona and Alessandra. After calling Maria to get the go-ahead, he put in a bid, sight unseen on her end, for the house.
Over the next 19 months, the couple worked with architect Scott Delano to transform the 1,990-square-foot space into a gracious, 2,420-square-foot home, filled with midcentury-style furnishings, including many they designed themselves, and compatible finishes. “We were true to the house while elevating some areas to be a bit more special,” says Delano, who works as director of design at Wright Heerema Architects in Chicago but typically takes on one private residential project a year.
Key changes included raising the ceiling in places, converting the wood-paneled rec room and bar on the lower level into a master suite, and moving the kitchen into what had been an enclosed breezeway and part of the garage, then putting in windows that fold open to create an indoor/outdoor eating area. “In Chicago, you probably only get a season and a half to actually open that window up,” admits Delano, “but it’s a glorious season and a half.”
“A lot of the decisions were about being true to the house while updating it. We weren’t trying to make it something it never was.” Scott Delano, Architect
When it came time to make some repairs to the gabled roof, contractor Andy Benbenek encountered an unpleasant surprise: The section over the upstairs bedrooms had to be completely replaced due to rain damage. The team quickly realized this was an opportunity. Delano turned the upward-pointing V into a downward one, creating a classic butterfly roof like those the couple had admired in Palm Springs. The new walls allowed for significantly taller windows, which provide a greater flow of natural light into the bedrooms.
The roof work added six months to the timeline and $40,000 to the budget. To offset some of the cost, Delano and assistant architect Nicholas Pettit got creative with finishes. For instance, trading expensive black porcelain tiles in the kitchen and fireplace nook for glazed ceramic ones arranged in a pattern of various sizes lowered the cost from $19 per square foot to $2.35. “Because you’re still providing something compelling”—an interesting pattern—”you don’t feel like you’ve made a compromise,” Delano says. Ultimately, the remodel cost $174 per square foot, including appliances and landscaping.
“Features that stood out in the original space that we were determined to keep were the large living room corner windows and the manageable room sizes.” Trey Berre, Resident
The result is a simple but engaging home that reflects the family’s personality. “We were looking to make something truly cool that made us feel happy,” Maria says. By updating a vintage gem rather than building new, she, Trey, and Delano succeeded in doing just that.