From Tear Down to Terrific

Standing in the entry of Brian and Tami Quinn’s five-bedroom Spanish Revival home in Wilmette, it’s difficult to believe that the house had been marketed as a tear down less than two years ago.

“Water had been seeping into the interior walls from leaking gutters, so plaster was crumbling, wallpaper was sagging and floors were buckling,” Tami says. But the formal layout, spacious room sizes and solid brick construction convinced the serial renovators to overlook the home’s dilapidated condition. “We knew that this place could really be something special and we decided to save it.” In this conversation with Make It Better, Tami Quinn shares their story.

With so much visible damage, were you worried about problems that might not be so obvious?
In an old home, you never knows what they’re going to find when they take down the walls, so we brought in a contractor who confirmed that the house was built like a fortress and had a good foundation. Plus, the basement was bone dry—no cracks, seepage or effervescence, and it had a 9-foot ceiling, so we knew we wouldn’t have to dig down into the foundation in order to finish it.

Did you have a plan for dealing with potentially unexpected budget-busting issues?
It’s so important that renovators get multiple bids and contractors. Your contractor will be your best friend for the next 12 months, so you better like him. Can you trust this person? Will he deliver? Will he be the type to nickel and dime you? We found a contractor who seemed hungry for the job and was willing to meet us halfway.

In addition to the renovation, you also remodeled the kitchen and added a family room, correct?
The existing kitchen was a very small, traditional 1920s space with aluminum cabinets, which just didn’t make sense for us. We added a small box to the back of the house that became the new kitchen, and we added 80 square feet to the existing kitchen, which became an adjacent family room.

How did you manage to finish such a large project in less than one year?
We were very clear about our expectations and timelines. Because we were so strict, we had people working late nights and weekends and calling in favors. Having said that, if it weren’t the worst economy in 30 years, we never could have finished the renovation in nine months.

You have renovated several properties in the past. Why do you enjoy it so much?
When you start to live in the world of possibilities, it becomes very exciting. Brian and I feel that our creative expression is through our homes. At one time, Brian was working at This Old House and I was working at Martha Stewart Living, so we always laughed that Brian would renovate the home, and I would decorate it.

Did you decorate this place yourself?
I did. I always say that I’m going to hire a decorator, but I don’t know that I’m ready to special order expensive fabrics. I still like to value shop. Sometimes it feels really good to shop the Crate and Barrel closeout sale.

How do you feel about the house now that you’ve finished?
It has good energy. It’s a happy house now.

The Quinn’s 9-month Renovation Checklist

  • Re-stuccoed and repainted the exterior.
  • Replaced the copper gutters.
  • Refinished fixable windows and replaced others with exact replicas.
  • Sanded and stained the original wood beams throughout the house.
  • Stripped and refinished walnut interior doors and original hardware.
  • Enlarged the kitchen and created a new adjacent family room.
  • Converted mezzanine-level atelier into master bedroom, bath and laundry room.
  • Converted basement into family area and home theater space. “The theater is my guilty pleasure,” Tami says. “The other night we watched the White Cliffs of Dover.”
  • Painted and decorated: “Don’t be afraid to experiment with paint color,” Tami says. “Even if you think a color looks horrible, once you move in the furniture and hang your paintings on the wall, it kind of disappears.”

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