Why We Bought Our Victorian House

How much of this have I shared already? I feel like I’ve touched on the reasons why we chose this house, but I don’t think I’ve told the whole story and I’d like to.

You already know that it was the Wright Plus Housewalk that did us in. Here’s what I wrote at the time.

“Brandon grew up in the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District of Oak Park, and after walking around the area all day, I was charmed. We like our side of town, but if we can find an affordable house in the historic district that will work for our family, we’ll go for it. The smaller/outdated homes do pop up occasionally. We’re not in a hurry to move, but I suppose we ought to start preparing our house so that we’ll be ready when the right house hits the market.”

What I didn’t mention then was that I had stopped in an open house at the end of the day. I had just toured nine private residences, but the house for sale was a charming painted lady Victorian (now our charming Victorian) and I thought “what’s one more?” I loved it, and when I got home, I asked Brandon what he thought about moving. He wasn’t interested in picking up and moving clear across the country (ahem, San Francisco), but he was excited about looking for a new place here in town. I told him about the open house, and we talked about how nice it would be if we could find something like it. We weren’t considering this house an option at that point because we thought it was out of our price range. The seed was planted, but we thought we’d take our time.

“There are still things to do to this house, and I think Brandon would be happy staying put. It’s a great house, and we’ve made it really nice over the last six years, but there’s only so much we can do before we start to over-improve a property. If we knew we were going to stay in our home for another six years, we wouldn’t worry about it, but I’m ready for new projects. A new adventure! And when I talked to Brandon about it, he agreed that he was ready too. We’ll be looking for a new home, here in Oak Park, but hopefully in one of the historic districts.”

Location

We did still love our side of town. Oak Park is somewhat divided in half, north side vs. south side. The north side is generally considered the more desirable part of town, though I’d argue that the south side is where is at. There’s the Arts district, the L (Blue Line), and an amazing park and pool with a conservatory across the street. The houses are cute, and there are tons of families with kids. (Families that still want to live near downtown Chicago but desire better schools often flock to either Evanston or Oak Park.)

At the center of Oak Park though, are the historic districts. There’s the aforementioned Frank Lloyd Wright district, and just across the tracks, the Ridgeland district. Both are still an easy walk to the L (the Green Line this time) or Metra, and there are parks, the main branch of the library, cute shops, and a lot of great restaurants. There are still plenty of families with kids, but the houses are more architecturally distinct — hence the historic demarcation. This walking tour of FLW in Oak Park can give you an idea of what some of the homes look like in the area. (Also, please note #16, the Oscar Balch house. No relation!)

Now that we’re here, we take that walking tour pretty regularly.

Morning Walk

Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio

Size, and the Market

Comparison of House Footprints (to Scale)Our new house is larger (it is 3100 sq ft) than the last, but we weren’t moving for lack of space. The records list our old house at 1600 square feet, but that doesn’t include the finished basement. We really had more like 2200 square feet of liveable space, and we hadn’t outgrown it. We also hadn’t completely finished the home or run out of projects. The real estate market here was picking up though, especially for ‘starter homes’ like ours.

After touring a ton of houses for sale, we realized how badly we wanted the Victorian, and Brandon and I scrambled to get our house on the market. We accepted an offer after five days and 16 showings, with another dozen upcoming showings that we then cancelled. We broke even when we sold, after you factor in the major upgrades we put into the home. It would have been nice to turn a healthy profit, but there are homes here and across the country selling at a loss, so we’re grateful to have made our money back. We had enough equity in the house (our initial down payment in 2007 came mostly from an inheritance) that we were able to put a large down payment on the new home, and still set some aside for initial projects alongside a rainy day fund.

New Projects!

We were long past the initial move-in phase at our old house, and I’d written before about how I missed that early frenzy of activity. The rush of possibilities! The chance to start anew! Our first house was similar in a lot of ways to the apartment Brandon and I shared years ago, but my taste had changed a little, as it’s always changing a little. (Wouldn’t it be a bore if we never tried anything new?)

Brandon and I assumed we would wait for a fixer-upper of a house, thinking it would be more affordable. And come on, you guys are no dummies! A new house equals new projects, which equals blog content. That was another good reason to buy a fixer-upper. I have a solid skill-base from my days long ago as a handyman’s assistant, and I’m always willing to jump in and learn how to do something new. So we searched for something with solid bones, but that needed some love. The problem with that is that almost all of the houses in Oak Park are at least a hundred years old, and the ones that need a little love usually need a LOT of love. (Exhibit A. Exhibit B.) We wanted a house that we can live in while doing the renovations — nothing dangerous for the kids to be exposed to or that would be uninhabitable for a period — that would provide plenty of projects.

But it turns out we fell in love with a house that was already in good shape, that was already beautiful. We can’t let the blog completely dictate our lives, to the point of walking away from a house in the location we wanted, that we could afford, and that we were crazy about, because it was too nice. The electrical and plumbing have been redone already — a huge plus. I love the wood trim here. I even like a lot of the wallpaper. There are always going to be things to do in an old (very old) house and of course there are plenty of projects, but we’re starting from a fantastic base. It would have been silly to turn down a house that was so right for our family because it wasn’t what I thought would be the right kind of blog fodder.

The Kids

Eleanor and August took to this house immediately. When we first brought up the idea of moving into a new house, Eleanor requested that we buy “a rainbow house.” We took the kids with us to each property that we toured, but this Victorian is the one that she deemed worthy of The Rainbow House moniker. There is a closet with two entrances that she and August think is a secret passage. The nook on the third floor with the stained glass window is another such secret passage, made even better by the fact that the door is scaled to their size. They call that “the rainbow room” — fitting, for a rainbow house.

They talked about this place constantly after seeing it. It’s nice that they fell in love with the same house as their parents! And here, they will go to the same schools that Brandon and his sisters did as children. The floor plan has several loops (give me a Victorian over an open-concept any day) that they love to run. The clawfoot tub is just right for bubble baths, and they can reach the sinks without a step stool — a small detail, but one that makes them happy. Their rooms are perfect for them, and we all love going for walks in the neighborhood. This house is the right one for us for so many reasons, and I feel really lucky to be here.

We hope to be here for a long, long time.

31 Responses to “Why We Bought Our Victorian House”

  1. Heidi September 18, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    There are a million and one reasons to buy a home and it sounds like this home was perfect for your family from day 1. It’s a gorgeous home and now it has a beautiful family to fill it with laughter and joy. Best of luck to your family.

  2. Lucy September 18, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    I’m glad you bought it and didn’t let the blog dictate what you bought! It’s beautiful! I think that you will have so many decorating projects to do with this house instead of renovation projects, so it’s really fine anyways.

  3. Rebecca H September 18, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    Yours is a wonderful story to watch unfold. So much love and happiness. You always put a smile on my face. Glad to get to follow along.

    • Kelly September 18, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

      Ditto this comment. Congrats again on your move!

  4. Laura @ Rather Square September 18, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    Having gone through the Oak Park house hunt shuffle myself earlier this year, I totally hear you about the fixer-uppers! We lucked out with finding one in our price range that had great bones and mostly cosmetic upgrades needed. But it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Worth it in the end, though. We’re on the south side, which we LOVE so far. Very laid-back and friendly (and no tourists!). So glad you found such a gem for your family!

    • Making it Lovely September 23, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

      No, no tourists, ha! The south side is awesome. When I first came across your blog, I think it said something like “Chicago-area”, and then I saw the house and figured it was Oak Park. :)

  5. Stacy September 18, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog earlier this year as I love hearing you talk about Oak Park. I spent a lot of time at the house right next door to #12 on the walking tour map you posted. Such an amazing neighborhood! I’m looking forward to more pictures. Your new home is so lovely (as was your former home)–congratulations!

  6. Elena September 18, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    This is a great post. I love reading your blog because you are so good at articulating why you do certain things (even though you don’t have too!). The main reason I love reading is because you are a designer. This house is in very good condition. This is true, but it doesn’t say “Nicole” yet. And that’s what I love seeing. I can’t wait to see what decorating choices you make to make this house you and your family’s home. I’m so excited for you and to see what you do!

  7. emily @ go haus go September 18, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    Beautifully written post Nicole! I’m so happy for you and your family. Thank goodness you didn’t let blog content needs dictate your decisions (but I never thought you would anyways). I also would say that I think you’re selling yourself a bit short. Yes, we come here for the projects but even more so, we come here for you. House projects, style posts, whatever. As long as you don’t up and leave this blog, I think we will be fine. :)

  8. Jessica @ Sunday Loves September 18, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

    It sounds like the perfect gem for all of you which is great! Glad to be able to follow along!

  9. Allison September 18, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    It’s such a beautiful house! I was really interested to hear all the particulars of how and why you bought it. I can’t wait to see your new projects!

  10. becca waterloo September 18, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    it just hit me you live in oak park! i’m from there too! such an amazing area, and river forest. i’ll be running in the frank lloyd wright 5k in october. such a good excuse for a scenic run in the fall. enjoy!

    • Making it Lovely September 23, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

      That sounds fun! I haven’t done a 5K since the Color Run last year with my sister. Maybe I should give it a go.

  11. Sara September 18, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    I love this so much. And I love longer posts from you, Nicole!

  12. Tena September 18, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    Way to be transparent! I know you didn’t have to give us the “ins and outs” of why you chose to move, but it is nice to read the trail of events that has led to your current home adventure. I for one will be here cheering you on!

  13. jbhat September 18, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    You are such a good writer. I’m super happy for your family and of course am eagerly awaiting all of the fun projects you have in store.

    jbhat

  14. Miss Charming September 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    It sounds as though your gorgeous new home was meant for you!

  15. Laurie September 18, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    That’s lovely! I’m so glad things worked out so perfectly. When it happens that easily, you have to think that it was meant to be.

    Because I want to help, you are welcome to hop over to Oregon to help me with projects and use it as blog fodder. My house needs a ton of work.

    I’m a giver.

  16. Julia September 18, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    Such honesty. And thank you for being one of the bloggers out there who has a grasp on syntax. Your posts are refreshing and a pleasure to read!

  17. nicole September 18, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    I’m a longtime reader and really happy and excited for your family’s new digs. As a SFO native, I’m loving the new direction and really excited to see what you do with the new place. I think as we come into our 30’s and experience motherhood, our taste and style changes a lot.

    My husband and I are also restoring an old house (ours is an 1888 colonial revival on the southern coast of Maine) while running our own company and raising two kids. I feel you on the challenges and joys of all that entails.

    In a blogging world that is becoming more staged and superficial by the day, I applaud you for doing what’s right for your family, buying your dream home and always being very frank and real about your experiences.

    You’re a good egg,
    Warmly,
    (another) Nicole

  18. Sarah Peppel September 18, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    How fun! We are in the throws of considering property with an adorable 2 stall horse barn which my kids are drooling over but the house is smaller and needs a lot of work – ugggh and it’s a log cabin house. So torn and we need to sell our nice neighborhood suburban home for the sake of a horse. Oh, the decisions!

    Love the Victorian. Great choice.

  19. laura September 18, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    It has so much charm and I can’t wait to see how you put your mark on it one room at a time. How exciting! I love new adventures! Will be following along!

    Laura
    House Envy

  20. Dana September 18, 2013 at 11:13 pm #

    I hope you live there for a long, long time too. Congratulations!

  21. Karen L. September 19, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    Thanks for sharing all this—–loved the thinking process you went through and the end result being the house you love! It’ so worth it to be where you want to live and to love the house for you and your family, too. I so enjoy reading your blog. You have a special touch.
    I recently recommended one of your fave pink paint colors to my sister who is painting her college daughter’s room as a surprise while she’s away at school. Wild Aster is going to make a 21yr-old-in-love-with-pink very happy when she comes home to her Ohio home for October break! Congrats again on your new home.

    • Making it Lovely September 23, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

      Oh, that makes me happy! I hope she loves it. It’s the best pink (but not baby-pink) there is.

  22. Jacky September 19, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

    Loved reading your story, and why you bought you house. I think this will be priceless to look back on for you, and your children, of the history of your home. Wishing you many happy years in your new home!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks:

  1. The Playroom Art Center | Making it Lovely - March 11, 2014

    […] painted a rainbow. For The Rainbow House, […]