Compass’ Paige Dooley on Revitalizing the Raw Architectural Beauty of the North Shore

Driving up Sheridan Road and meandering through any of the beautiful North Shore suburbs is truly a treat that inspires awe as well as an appreciation of architecture and exceptional beauty.

The development of some of the finest towns in the country began in part in the early 1800s. On the iconic Sheridan Road, formerly known as the Green Bay Trail, it began with the Wayside Inn in Winnetka (translation: beautiful land). In addition to offering great schools, being close to Lake Michigan and in a super convenient location to the city of Chicago, each of these local shoreline towns are simply stunning. They boast architecturally interesting homes set amidst a lovely landscape/streetscape. But like all beauty, it takes effort to nurture and maintain it. 

When it comes time to buy a home on the North Shore, there are many factors to consider. Many of today’s buyers love the convenience of moving into a lovely, fresh environment. Sometimes, they think the only way to achieve that is by buying a brand new house. 

Yes, that is one of many ways. But with an eye toward beauty and a respect for architecture and history, there is another option. 

There are so many vintage homes in our area. Many are surrounded by beautiful gardens and green space. I encourage prospective buyers to keep an open mind toward the appeal of revitalizing some of the magnificent architecture around us. 

They don’t build them like they used to. 

While new houses are constructed with new materials (which can certainly be added to any house), many older homes have an element of old-world craftsmanship that cannot easily be replicated today. The quality of the materials and the expertise of the master craftsmen who built many of these architectural gems are not readily available. From the stone and brick that was once used to the custom millwork and elegant staircases, many houses are both super solid and true works of art. The interiors often need updating and some key rooms surely need a facelift, but this can be done with a call to a good contractor. Everyone loves good bones!  

Adding value is exponential when the right projects are done.

The reality is most everyone wants new kitchens and bathrooms. As I tell buyers, the basic rectangle rooms remain rectangles no matter their age, but a home’s kitchen and bathrooms often create the overall look. Those rooms reflect back on the basic rooms and can make them appear updated. To update a classic architectural beauty with new baths and a wonderful kitchen and family room can often cost less than building an entire house with new materials from the ground up.

Recently, a classic beauty on a large lot on Chestnut Street in Winnetka was in need of extensive work, as the owner enjoyed the home for over 50 years. Most speculated it was a teardown. As we prepared it for sale, we knew the bones were good and suspected that someone could bring it back to its original glory. To make it more visually appealing, we emptied the house of all its contents, painted every surface, removed all the carpet, refinished the floors, opened a wall in the kitchen and waterproofed the basement with the help of Compass Concierge. While the home still needed a new kitchen, baths and some infrastructure work, multiple buyers were able to see its inherent beauty. The house received multiple offers. In the end, an earnest local family bought it and is working to restore it. 

The importance of character and history 

The North Shore is full of architecturally significant homes and buildings. During daily trips to the store or on a carpool run, one can drive by projects by noted architects Howard Van Doren Shaw, George Maher, Frank Lloyd Wright, David Adler, Daniel Burnham and countless others.

What makes the towns we live in special is both the mature tree-lined streets and the rows of uniquely designed homes that cannot be recreated in their original essence. To keep the charm and the history alive, we need to take time to admire it and, yes, work to revitalize and maintain the beauty around us. It is so worth it. Many towns in the U.S. that were developed much later do not have the benefit of history. While they may be full of lovely new houses, they can never simply recreate what historically has been built over 100-plus years. There’s nothing like a classic beauty. 

Stories of hope

Angel investors can crop up in your very own backyard.

Several years ago, a charming old house in the winding avenues of East Winnetka was at risk of being torn down. It was located on a very prominent, lovely spot on the street, so a group of neighbors banded together to save the house. They found a local family to rent the house and the neighborhood team eventually sold it to them. Now the streetscape is more lovely than ever with the life they breathed into their beautiful home.

Just this year, a classic George Maher house on the main thoroughfare in Kenilworth was at risk of being torn down. A Kenilworth resident, who also grew up in the village, could not bear to see another historic house meet the wrecking ball. She and her husband decided to do their part in maintaining the history and character of the community by buying the house to save it. They partnered with the spectacular architectural team at Morgante Wilson Architects, who had renovated their own home in Kenilworth. This project was more extreme on the continuum of renovations. The 305 Kenilworth team gutted the insides of the home. There was work to be done on the plumbing, electrical, HVAC, windows, roof and more. They redesigned the flow for an open kitchen and family room lifestyle. The team kept the beautiful stairway elements, fireplace and other millwork Maher had designed. In this case, they built a new house within the skeletal frame of the original. It’s the best of both worlds: a “new” house with architectural significance. Their business model was to break even. You can buy this 2020 house renovation for cost! 

Compass has committed to help via Compass Concierge

Another way to keep interest in classic homes is to be sure they are well maintained. Compass understands that when it’s time to sell your house, you may not have done some recent renovations that would help the property sell more swiftly and for a better price. We all believe that providing a house in the best condition and presenting it in the best light helps it sell. Any house can use a refresh, but it is even more important for the classic older houses on large properties to position themselves so buyers can recognize the potential of maintaining the ongoing beauty. 

I just love the North Shore real estate market, and I am grateful to live and work here. There are so many different options for houses across all styles, sizes and price ranges — so many beautiful homes and so many that need a little extra love. Regardless of your individual home, we are all lucky to enjoy the collective beauty of the housing that creates the streetscapes in our towns. Thanks to all who work to revitalize that beauty every day!   

Get in touch with Paige Dooley at Compass Real Estate here.