Today, we’re talking all about our plans for Unit 1 at the Two Flat! As we mentioned earlier this week, we’re back with the details surrounding the MASSIVE changes we have in store for this apartment. It took a lot of brainstorming with our contractor, but we’ve found a way to increase this unit from 1 (sorta) bedroom / 1 bathroom to a 3 bedroom / 2 bathroom – all without an addition! Hear us out.
Old Layout vs. New Layout | Main Floor
There’s a lot to unpack here (um, like, an entirely new staircase!), but first allow me to throw one more set of plans at you for the currently-unfinished ground level! I mean, if it looks like we’re adding an entirely new level to Unit 1… well, we are:
Old Layout vs. New Layout | Ground Floor
Slicing Off the Pantry and Reworking the Bathroom
From what we can tell, at some point in the middle of the last century, storage space in this home must have been at a major premium. During that point in the home’s life, the then-owners added a five-sided floating pantry at the back of the kitchen. Unfortunately, it was improperly insulated (if at all?), is definitely leaky and is definitely not square. We’ll start the kitchen domino effect by removing the entire structure from the back of the house and replacing the current opening with a modern window to let in all that glorious light.
While we don’t anticipate future tenants or Airbnb-ers (we’re still up in the air on the latter) requiring enough pantry space to necessitate an entire addition on the back of the house, bonus storage options are always welcome. That said, we’re simply shifting the pantry to the space between the kitchen and bathroom:
Which means that the bathroom will then shift partially into the current broom closet you see below! This kitchen layout is going to change drastically… but wait, there’s more!
Adding a Closet to the Current Bedroom
While this unit of the home was listed as having 1 bedroom and 1 bathroom, the bedroom doesn’t have a closet, so technically, it’s just a… room? (Here’s a full photo tour, if you’d like to see!) Since the bedroom backs up to the kitchen (it’s the open door in the far right of the photo below), we’ll steal a bit of square footage from the kitchen to build a closet and ‘create’ the first of three official bedrooms. (Yeah, hang tight on those bedrooms – more in a minute!) Once the bedroom closet is in place and we’ve replaced the pantry with a new window, we’ll also shift the back door a few feet to the left, roughly where the window is now, which will give us room to create another U-shaped kitchen.
Adding a Staircase
On the other side of the kitchen, we’ll be adding a staircase! That’s right; in the approximate space where the stove used to reside (marked by the dark spot on the floor, beneath that mysterious hot pink paint splatter) a staircase will lead down to the ground floor.
Originally, we struggled with the Unit 1 floor plan, and we had high hopes of adding a bedroom – someway, somehow. So when our architect toured the house for the first time and told us that we could duplex-down (meaning, make the ground / garden level an extension of the main floor), we were like, okay, prove it. We couldn’t wrap our heads around it, but after weeks of planning and brainstorming, we ultimately landed on a plan that would double the usable square footage of Unit 1! Here’s how…
Adding Those Extra Bedrooms and a Laundry Room!
In the front half of the ground floor, we’ll carve out a second bedroom as well as the den/wet bar area. The wet bar will line the wall to the left below, approximately where the sink and cute lil’ vintage stove reside now. Here’s the view when you walk into the garden ‘apartment,’ but when we’re done, this door will actually be walled off:
Here’s the view facing towards the existing entrance, and it’s a better view of where the wet bar will be. Once the awkward built-in closet (left side of photo below) and the large HVAC duct have been removed, the space will open up significantly, allowing for a cozy little entertaining/bonus/den space.
Below, you can see the view from the wet bar, facing towards… a new bedroom! This will be the largest of what will add up to be three bedrooms. This space will measure out to nearly 12′ x 12′, which is pretty generous by Chicago standards! We’re thinking of this as the ‘master-ish’ bedroom as it will likely be the only one large enough to comfortably house a king-size bed. Combined with the bathroom and ‘den’ space, it could sort of function as a large ‘suite’. We think it’ll be pretty great!
Stepping beyond the wet bar and future bedroom is a typical looking basement. One of the first things we’ll be doing back here is replacing the 130 year-old wood support beam below with a modern steel I-beam. The existing beam is likely structurally sound, but the placement of the post right in the middle of the photo below won’t work with the new plans, because it happens to land in the dead center of a hallway that will lead to a back bedroom and a laundry room! (Also, we want the house to last for another 130 years, so we’re future-proofing as much as possible, you know?) The back bedroom will occupy the space roughly created by the beam and the two exterior walls, and it will get new windows that are not glass block. If you squint, you can see it, right?
The photo below is taken from the reverse view of the photo above and shows the area that will become the laundry room! The washer and dryer will shift into space of the utility sink below, butting up to the back of the expanded bathroom. Much like upstairs in Unit 2, it’s extremely important to us that this unit has its own dedicated laundry space.
Hoping For Hardwood
Back up the stairs to the ‘main’ floor of Unit 1, we’re holding our breath and hoping that this little glimmer of oak hardwood (under that blue tape below) continues throughout the apartment. Not only will this discovery save us thousands of dollars in flooring costs, vintage hardwood floors are simply the best. No question. Assuming the above is true, we’ll need to sand and refinish the floors, but not having to replace every single square foot of flooring sure would be fantastic. Fingers crossed!
We hope these plans are starting to make sense, but we’re always happen to talk through any questions in the comments! We’ll continue to update as the demo and eventual construction move forward, and if you haven’t yet seen it, be sure to check out the first video in our ‘Dear Two Flat’ vlog series. Through that series, we’ll bring you along for a real-time renovation ride through video, peppered in throughout our usual blog updates. We hope you’re as excited as we are to see this project start taking shape! It’s happening, it’s happening!
Oh yes, I am excited to see all these plans taking shape! And I always enjoy seeing spaces used efficiently.
One thing I noticed that seems to be missing is coat closets. I know there must be a need for that in Chicago! What’s the plan for that?
You’re so right – there is a black hole for coat closets. We debated that, but pushing back some of the load bearing walls or taking away from the already small entry didn’t feel right. We’re hoping that a wall of hooks will suffice and extra coats can go in the bedroom closets! After all, we lived that way for years in our condo and didn’t miss it.
For a second, I was like, but you have to have a coat closet! And then I realized… I hate the coat closet. The coat closet is where you SHOVE things when people drop by unannounced and you don’t want them to think that you’re a slob. A shoe tray for wet boots and hooks with anchors are how I deal with Chicago winters. My next place, I’m ripping out the damn coat closet to force myself to be cleaner.
Thanks for sharing! I’m wondering why you decided to add a wet bar to the den? It seems like it would be more flexible if it could be used as either a den or an office (that’s how I would use it, anyway), and a wet bar in an office would be pretty weird. Maybe Chicago renters have different preferences–would love to hear the thinking behind that!
The plumbing is already there, and we thought it would be a nice touch to include in the den area. Another bonus is that since it’s sort of separate from the floor above, the whole garden level could almost be a guest suite of sorts!
If “wetbar” is code for kitchenette, where code doesn’t allow another kitchen with a real stove, as it is in NYC, but sure to leave an undercounter nook for a half-height refrigerator, and a counter that someone could put an induction hotplate or two, a coffee maker, and a toaster oven on, and enough outlets for all that, and add some cupboards or wall shelves – then you’d actually a real guest suit there, especially useful if you are thinking of AirBnBing, but useful for roommates, too.
But for a guest suite, or for an apartment shared by family members or roommates, why not put a door to the outside from that den area to the front? That way, occupants could come in an out without having to enter upstairs and go through to the kitchen to get downstairs, disturbing the occupant of the upstairs bedroom if they are sleeping (or else they’d have to enter the basement through the backyard and meter/utility room.) A door to the front there could be mostly window, whether one pane or many little ones, with a thick blind on it for total privacy, and so as to not look so muh like an entry door from inside (and it would look more like a window from outside, too.)
The occupants also might also like a door at one or both ends of the staircase to make the upper and lower areas more private from each other. You could do a pocket door downstairs, and/or a swing door upstairs. Having one at both ends might seem odd, but then someone on either floor could just close off the staircase, say, to keep out noise from above or below, instead of having to walk up or down the stair first to close the door.
There’s actually already a door to the front of the den area, but we’re closing it up and adding a window to allow more light. There will be an exit to the back, but we want to keep the single family feel for this apartment. And yes, you’re exactly a right – a kitchenette is a better word!
I didn’t suggest a wood door, but a door that was primarily glass – surely a door that is all window, except the for the frame, provides more light than a window, unless the window is the height of a door.
The reason I think you should consider making that window in the den a door (barring any architectural or code issues that might exist) is that as a renter of any sort – if I leave and forget something in a downstairs bedroom, having to go up the stairs to the front door, and around to the kitchen, down the stairs to retrieve what I forgot, and then reverse it all agin, would be a mighty pain. It would be easier for any tenant – whether long or short term – to be able to enter the unit from the lower floor as well as from the upper floor. I also wouldn’t want to have to go around the back to enter (or exit) through the utility room.
I also think that not having to enter the lower level only from stairs down from the kitchen would go a long way toward making the basement feel less like, well, a basement. I get the idea of keeping the feeling of it being a single-family unit, but no one wants to feel like they are sleeping in a basement! I think the idea for this sort of renovation is to do your best to trick someone into not feeling like they are sleeping in the basement (even though they are). I base this on what I see done in renovations in cities I’ve lived in with lots of brick and brownstone townhouses – having a nice mostly glass door to the lower level helps it feel less like a basement.
Your architect sounds like a genius! I’m so excited to see how you transform the flat and bring it into this century. And that poor pantry! It looks like it’s held a lot. This place is so charming, so it’ll be so great to see what you do with it.
Poor pantry is right, ha!
This is so exciting!! The nerd in me LOVES floor plans, making a new & more functional plan is my favorite part of renovating, truly!
I wondered if you could explain why you are “duplexing down” instead of creating a third unit with rental income potential?
The easy answer? This house is only zoned for 2 residential units. If we decided to make the garden level a third unit, it would require jumping through maaaaaany hoops with the city.
Once again, it looks amazing! My only idea would be to make the main floor bathroom door a pocket door to streamline that space even more! I realize the pantry door won’t be open a whole lot, but that pocket door would make it feel much more roomy in that part of the house. Just a thought. I can’t wait to see all this in action! I love your plans!
We love a good pocket door! Thanks for the suggestion. Definitely gives us something to think about.
I hate a pocket door for a bathroom. I never feel like it’s totally closed, especially when it’s close to public areas, and I worry about sound/smell. I guess that bathroom is a little bit off the main public areas, but still.
Pocket doors have come a long way. We did one for our half bath, used a Johnson Pocket Door Kit and bought a heavy-duty five-panel door. It closes all the way (we used a different type of lock), and everyone loves it.
It isn’t the bathroom door that is in the way here, as it opens into the bathroom – so no pocket door is needed on the bathroom. It is the pantry door that is in the way, if open, to getting in or out of the bathroom. Adding a pocket door to the pantry wouldn’t work here – you’d have to close up that side of the kitchen with a wall for that, and it looks like the kitchen just ends there with countertop with upper cabinets above – which is nice – a wall there to house a pantry pocket door would make that end of the kitchen too closed in. A way to get rid of the pantry door issue would be to nix the pantry door, and have the pantry be an open nook, perhaps with tall cabinets with their own doors on one wall of the nook. Cabinets in there probably cost a bit more than a pantry door, but the flow of the space would be much improved. You could also put a bi-fold door on the pantry for a smaller swing area than a regular door.
Or, you could get the pantry door out of the way by having it also swing into the pantry. You’d lose some storage space in there – I’d be fine with that, as I’d be one to leave the pantry door open all the time to make it easier to run in and out to retrieve things when cooking – I’d rather have slightly less pantry space than have to contend with the pantry door opening into the hallway in the way of getting to the bathroom.
I so look forward to seeing how this new project comes into being. Your other renovations – Tree House, especially – showed great taste…simple and cleverly functional, yet elegant and fun! Rooting for you!
This is so kind, thank you, Katya!
I am always so impressed with people who can see the new potential in a place like this. I guess those people are rare gems, because this duplex has obviously been passed on by so many people before you guys came to rescue it. I can hardly wait to see the transformation!
So excited to see this unfold! I’ve lived in many Chicago apartments and this will be a gem of a place for sure! Just enough space for all the needs! Very exciting!!
This is really starting to look good! This unit looks like it could benefit from multiple pocket doors, though. In a tiny bathroom with the door swinging in, there’s not much room for a person to stand while closing the door. The pantry door will also make the bathroom inaccessible while open. The closet door in the upstairs bedroom could benefit from a pocket door as well. Nothing worse than two doors that can’t be opened at the same time and/or bump into each other! With renters you’ll be lucky if the doors don’t get damaged.
Lastly, not to be a downer, but a 10×8 den that has two feet eaten out of it for a “bar” that runs the length of the room seems like a really tiny, weird space. It seems like it’d be way more flexible and appealing to a tenant without the bar.
Great feedback! We’re suckers for pocket doors! The full length ‘bar’ was something we came up with on the fly and it’s easier to remove things from plans than to add them, so we stuck with it! It’ll probably be scaled down by the time we build everything out.
I get what you are saying about the small bathroom and the inward-swinging door. I had a very small bathroom where the door was changed to swinging out – and it really made the bathroom seem much bigger (there wasn’t room for the door to swing in after it was renovated the way it was anyway). That’s a cheaper option than installing a pocket door, and one many would prefer to a pocket door (I would – I often find them fiddly to use for doors used as frequently as bathroom doors are). Especially here, as the bathroom door could swing out and be against the hallway wall there when open (this would only work here if the pantry door either swung in or the pantry had no door).
I also see what you mean about the closet in the bedroom by the kitchen – renters often end up taking the door off a closet where it bumps into the bedroom door, so they can access the closet easily – either as an open closet, or using a curtain of some sort for a door. Using bypass sliding closet doors can also work well to not have the closet door bump the room door, with the added advantage where the doors can then be the same width as the close opening, so there’s no harder-to-use areas inside the closet on other side of a single closet door. They are also probably a cheaper option to install than a pocket door.
I have a question/suggestion. That “Bedroom 005” seems to be a long ways from the bathroom, with four turns by the time you arrive in the bathroom. I wonder if it would make more sense if you relocated the laundry to the closet in the hallway and made that bath bigger with a Jack and Jill style with one door on each end, making it accessible to both bedrooms. I dunno, just something I noticed. So excited for this project!
Very interesting idea! We’ll keep it in mind when we talk to our carpenter this weekend!
Although a quick aside: The laundry hook ups are already in place where they’re located in the new plans. So to move it to the closet would be a hefty expense. At one point we did consider a Jack & Jill door, but that was if the bathroom completely swapped with where the closets are now. Unfortunately, we nixed that idea for the expense, too.
I had the exact same thought about the long trek to the bathroom from the back bedroom. But, my thought after adding another door was just to make it a combo laundry/bath. With stackable washer/dryer it looks like there would be plenty of space. An added bonus is that the bathroom would be more easily accessible from the back yard. Love the plans and can’t wait to follow along with the progress!
I’m so excited to follow along with this. The plans sound great! I, too, was wondering why you were sticking with 2 units instead of the potential for 3, so thanks for clarifying about the zoning.
As a long time city renter, YES TO THREE BEDROOMS! We have a massive shortage of 3 beds in our area and it’s a huge frustration for families (or people who just want extra space!) I cannot wait to see how this turns out!
Your plans are exciting! Have you checked to see if the tiles on the hardwood have asbestos? It looks like stuff we found when changing carpet in our 1950s house.
Our demo team will be handling that!
Is that a vintage laundry tub in the basement? Those are the best!
Plans are looking good!
Wanted to advise as an Airbnb cohost that units in the city are super regulated. They are not supposed to be entire homes in Chicago, but a room in an existing home. One owner I worked with had a listing removed as he had another noted as his primary dwelling. Obviously you’ll be working for a while but the only way both units in the two flat could be listed is if you each “operate” one. As a lover of old buildings, this is amazing and I am so glad you are doing this project – for the two flat and for all of us to see!
Thank you! We certainly have more digging to do when it comes to that, so we appreciate any insight you can provide. Unit 2 will be a typical yearly lease, so only Unit 1 might be the short term rental. We will see, but I’d love to furnish Unit 1!
I am not a ‘basement’ bedroom kind of person. What if all the bedrooms were up and the kitchen, den, living room were down?
We’ll make them cozy!
I get you on that – I’m not a basement bedroom kind of person, either – but the one place where it can be better, as exists here, is when there is another unit above you (especially in the sort of old building without much at all between the floors, as has got to be the case here given when this building was built.) At least when it is your own apartment’s top floor above you, the neighbors above aren’t keeping you awake.
What is the plan for uncovering the hardwood floor? Do you do that yourself? If so how?
The demo team uncovered the flooring, and then we’ll have the pros refinish them!
I can’t wait to see how your beam replacement goes! We’ll be doing the same thing as soon as the city of chi approves our plans… I’m constantly refreshing the permit status page.
Thanks for sharing, as always!!
We have a pocket door on our main floor powder room, and I love it. It’s a solid wood door (blocks noise, hefty feel) with the Johnson soft close hardware (so it catches itself and closes slowly, no slamming). I also spent forever researching and finding a good, quality pocket door lock — it has a large knob to make it easy to lock/unlock and the locking mechanism itself is a substantial metal hook. So many pocket door locks are those small cheap ones that hardly do a thing and are impossible to operate unless you have very small hands, and also make your whole bathroom “experience” feel less secure. tl;dr: with a solid wood door, soft close hardware, and a quality lock, a pocket door for a bathroom is a great option if you’re short on space.
We also had a huge pantry like that in our first chicago 3-flat! I love the size of the pantry compared to the number of bedrooms that were there before. Who was eating all of that food?
What if you flipped the main level bathroom door to the side by the front door? Then there wouldn’t be the dreaded bathroom in the kitchen situation and your pantry could be a little larger and span where the door to the bathroom currently is. The coat hooks could be on the back side of the wall of the stairs going down. ????
I just thought of another idea! You could swap the kitchen and bedroom on the main level so the kitchen and dining room flow together for entertaining and then the bedroom would be more private!