If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you probably know that demo has begun at The Two Flat, and we should start seeing some very significant changes in the weeks and months to come! The plans for the home have been approved for weeks, and yet, we haven’t shared them in an official capacity. That changes starting – now! It’s time for a proper run through of the approved future layout and all of the changes we’ll be making. We’ll be diving in first with Unit 2, as well as some of the common areas of the space. Unit 1 will see the most drastic changes to the floor plan (like a staircase and closets and two additional bedrooms!), so it will receive its own dedicated post later in the week. But today, it’s all about Unit 2!
The Floor Plans
So what’s going to change, you might ask? Pretty much everything but the floor plan! Okay, but really, as you can see below and in this video walkthrough, the bones of this unit are great, so the layout changes we’ll be making are minimal. Every single surface, however, will be ‘touched’ to bring new life to the entire space. (I think we can all agree that this goes without saying moving forward, yeah?) The biggest difference you may notice below is the widening of the opening between the living room and kitchen, as well as a reconfiguring the kitchen into a more functional U-shape.
Current Layout vs. New Layout
Plaster & Trim Decisions
Before we jump in to details on the more specific layout changes, it makes sense to address the elephant in the room. What’s happening with aaaalllll of that plaster that’s now laying in piles on the floor?! Prior to us purchasing it, the home sat vacant for well over a decade. Because of the lack of occupancy, the building experienced drastic temperature swings that led the plaster to crack and fail. We considered attempting to repair and patch the plaster wherever possible (in fact, we were pretty adamant about it at first), but there was so much damage to the majority of the walls that it became more cost effective to start from scratch and install new drywall throughout the unit.
Beyond the plaster, we’ll also be attempting to salvage as much of the original millwork as humanly possible. The demo crew will be removing the trim as they go, we’ll then label it, refinish it and reinstall it once the drywall is back in place. In areas where the original baseboards and door/window trim aren’t in place, we’ll do our best to match with modern millwork like we did here. It’s certainly a labor of love, but one that will surely be worth it in the end!
Expanding the Most Adorable Archway
One of the more drastic changes to Unit 2 will be the widening of the arch between the kitchen and living room. We wanted to ensure that as much natural light as possible reached the common areas, while also improving the flow into the kitchen, so this decision seemed like a natural one. The arch will expand vertically by 10 or 12 inches, and then we’ll expand the width by 6-8 feet depending on how everything flows together once all of the debris is cleaned up. We can’t wait for this modification, as it will completely change the way the future tenants enjoy the space! Note: We talk more about this in our most recent ‘Dear Two Flat’ entry.
Adding In-Unit Laundry
In-unit laundry is a very sought-after feature in any city apartment. The doorway you see below used to be the kitchen pantry, but we’re nixing it in favor of a small laundry nook with space for a stacked washer/dryer and maybe a small cabinet or two for storing laundry necessities. The layout of the laundry nook might end up similar to that of the Garden Unit, but this space is slightly narrower, so we’ll play around with the configuration once drywall is in place. In place of the massive pantry, a more functional kitchen layout should help with the storage that we’re removing. In a Chicago rental, in-unit laundry beats a big pantry any day!
Refinishing the Common Foyer and Staircase
The common foyer and staircase in the Two Flat caught our attention immediately the first time we toured the home. The flooring has seen some wear and tear, of course, but we’re confident that sanding and refinishing will bring new life to the space! Heading up the stairs, the tread of each individual stair has been protected for quite some time with heavy duty rubber runners.
For stairs that have been in place since the late 1800’s, it’s hard to believe the condition they’re in. Again, sanding and refinishing the stairs should have a huge impact. Luckily, most of the millwork in the foyer and is also in fantastic shape, so we’ll strip, repair and paint as necessary to unify the space and brighten things up.
Adding Curb Appeal Out Front… And Out Back
The front of the house is going to see a complete transformation that will have it looking like a different structure all together when we’re finished! We’ll be completely rebuilding the rickety old porch and eliminating the awkward ‘box’ that encloses the flat roof over the porch and bay-ish window bump out. A more period-correct portico will take the place of the box and the whole house will also see a fresh coat of paint to tie everything together. Also, see that ‘tree’ in the dead center of the front yard? From what we can tell, it’s actually an overgrown Yew shrub that exploded to its current size and shape after years of neglect. Much like the Yews that had overtaken the backyard at Tree House, this big fella is going to have to go! Apparently we have a thing for buying houses with large, unwieldy Yews, huh?
Speaking of Yews, our demo team has already removed two more of them from the backyard behind where the former garage stood. Which – oh, yeah! – the garage has already been demolished and removed. And do you see the massive back staircase/deck in the photo below? It was rebuilt just a few years ago and is in great structural shape, but the whole thing will get a thorough cleaning and a fresh paint job. Prior to paint, we’re also investigating ways to replace the enormous ‘upside-down-V’ braces with a simpler design. To round out the exterior work, we’ll patch in some damaged siding, install new gutters all around and make some minor roof repairs.
One Step at a Time
Since we have no intention of living in this home, this project is happening in bulk stages instead of ‘room by room’ as we normally work. That is a whole new experience that we’re taking one step at a time. Once the demolition is done and the majority of the dust has settled, the rough carpentry team will take over to make all of the interior and exterior changes. After framing, the mechanical teams can come in to tackle the HVAC systems, electrical and plumbing work. And once the work behind the walls is wrapped up, the drywall installers will step in to bring us to ‘white box’ status! It will be then that we’ll take over for the majority of installation and finish work, hiring out smaller jobs as necessary.
For reference, these are the smiling faces of two people that have lived through (and lived IN) this kind of mess many times before. Old home demolition is not for the faint of heart, but we know what comes next and we couldn’t be more excited (we say with a nervous laugh)!
It’s incredibly exciting to see the work begin! The lack of a few solid walls is already giving us an idea of how the light will make its way into each space and we’re already visualizing the finished product. This is going to be a long road, and we hope you’ll follow along with us to see it through. Be sure to check back in a few days for all of the Unit 1 details! (It’s a doozy.)
Psst: If you haven’t already seen it, you may enjoy this ‘Dear Two Flat’ vlog, as well as this Q & A post that covers a lot of frequently asked Two Flat questions.
I’m going to miss the colors of those walls. They remind me of lime-washed walls in the French countryside.
As long as you are opening the archway up between the kitchen and living room to allow for a lot more passage between the two rooms, why not close up a bit of the archway that is there now across from the bathroom? (You can still replicate the curve you like a bit further down on the wall.). Seems to me like a bathroom is more private when off the hallway only, rather than across from the archway to the living/dining room.
The other benefits to be gained from doing this (besides not sitting in the living/dining room looking directly at the bathroom) are (1) symmetry, where the archway you will make is somewhat more centered on that living room wall, perhaps, or at least the archway is between the living/dining room and the kitchen, not between the living/dining room and the kitchen AND hallway, and (2) adding a bit of wall to the corner there actually makes space for a piece of furniture in that corner of the living/dining room – having a little bit of room for some furniture on either side of the archway will go a long way to help with furnishing a room that doesn’t have a lot of wall space – with the windows on one wall, the archway wall, and the door to a closet on another wall. I’ve learned this living in brownstones, where it is common to have doors, windows, and/or fireplaces on all four walls of a room – even when you the float all the major furniture in the room, by necessity, those little corner wall spaces on otherwise all-open walls come in very handy for a piece of smaller furniture, a chair, or a plant, or some combination fo those three- which would be especially useful in a room like this which has to combine both living and dining room furniture.
This is a great point, and definitely something we’re considering. The FINAL placement will be decided once we walk through with the framing team, but there will certainly be some wiggle room on exactly where the larger arch will go. Thank you, Ann!
Exactly my thought as well!
Great minds and all that – it was my only quibble with opening up the wall between the kitchen and living room.
You guys are right!
Having lived in many Chicago walkups myself, I echo everything Ann has written. While open space is generally better than small isolated rooms, bathrooms should be as private as possible both for those in the bathroom and those not ;). I’ve often wondered if builders/rehabbers thought about how someone could arrange furniture in some homes, so thinking about that ahead would be great.
I’m so excited to watch this unfold! It’s going to be amazing!
The closet off the living room is odd. Could you eliminate it and put a window in for a reading nook? Or combine it with what was the pantry to make a half bath and laundry room off the kitchen?
It’s the only storage in the main spaces, so after a lot of back and forth, we decided to keep it. We thought it would be an awesome spot to keep extra blankets, linens and games!
I’m so excited for this renovation! But if the house sat empty for a decade, why was the back staircase/deck rebuilt more recently?
We think the previous deck had code violations, and the former owner had to rebuild the deck from scratch. Lucky for us, it was probably right before the house sat vacant.
I’m so excited to follow along with this! Sending you prayers and good vibes :) Thanks for sharing the process!
I am wondering about the back stairs and deck. Why were they added recently when the house hadn’t been occupied in decades? Seems so strange to me.
There were code violations on the home, so the owner had to address them and get it approved through the city, regardless of who was living there (or not). Lucky for us!
In-unit washer/dryer?? Marry me! ;)
I have been absolutely loving following you guys along with ChrisLovesJulia and Young House Love. Very excited to watch this renovation, the plans look amazing!
Very exciting to see and follow along!
I do have a question about the living room layout. Have you considered removing the closet and laundry and putting them on the other side of the living room. The laundry could be accessed from the bedroom hallway and this way you could have a lot more light by adding windows into the living room from the back as well as a little more privacy to entering and seeing the bathroom from the living room,
Oooh, that’s a super interesting suggestion. We hadn’t thought of that, but perhaps we’ll give it more thought. Our initial thoughts were to leave well enough alone (because $$$), but I could see your idea working, too.
Love this idea! Also the closet would be more of a “main area” closet rather than a “closet weirdly in the living room”.
That is the kind of reorganization of space you think about when renovating a condo for yourself to live in, or a place to sell as a condo, or creating an upscale rental. For a cheap basic rental, not so much. (I also looked at that room and thought a window on the back wall could provide more light to the room.)
I think a renovator of rentals needs to figure out who their target rental audience is – I don’t know Chicago or the neighborhood in question in depth enough to know (it has been decades since I regularly visited Logan Square) – but if you want to get the highest rents possible in an area that can get a higher rent for a nicer space (which is also partly dependent on the quality of materials and fixtures and systems (AC?) one puts in), making it look thoughtfully laid out and renovated like a condo you’d want to buy certainly will help get higher rents (or just pickier tenants, who may be better tenants) – but it does take more initial investment, so one has to figure out whether the investment will be worth it in the rental revenue possible to attain. Though there’s also the final appearance of the exterior of the building to be taken in account in that calculation, too, as well as the appearance of the common areas (including the stairwell.)
I’m not sure which they are aiming for here. Taking down the wall is not necessary here, for example, for a basic rental (and some renters would even prefer the wall to be there for extra wall space for furniture in both the kitchen and living room, or just because they prefer the kitchen to be more separate). Taking it (mostly) down seems to be going for the more modern condo-like or upscale rental renovation trends we see now. Making the changes you suggest would be a further step in that direction.
One can always do more renovation at a later point in time if one decides it is worth the investment, as rents change, and seem to only go up over the long-term. But there is the cost of lost rental revenue while changes are being made later, and the possibility of disturbing tenants in the other unit while work is being done (though many landlords don’t really care about that) if both units aren’t empty and being renovated at the same time.
So many good points, Ann, and all things we have to take into account with every decision. While we want to create a more open feel, we’re not going for open-concept in this gorgeous old home. Investing in widening this wall seemed like an easy decision, whereas removing the closet (and therefore, removing storage) and adding a window might be good for a buyer, but we think a renter would prefer the storage. So we’re looking for a happy medium in all areas, while providing comforts that renters often wish for: AC, in-unit washer/dryer and extra storage.
Oh, I’m all for keeping the closet – the more the better. EL’s suggestion was to move BOTH the closet and laundry room to the other wall. You could even theoretically have an additional closet on the wall with the window as well. (Though I get not wanting to take on the more expensive work that all that would entail right now.)
Yeah, the expense in that could get hefty… but perhaps it’s something we could bring up with our architect?!
I love that you’re sharing all of this! I can see why you think the V braces on the porch are bulky, but it is kind of nice that they reflect the shape of the roofline! Just a positive to have in mind in case they can’t be changed :)
Good point on the upper set – they do replicate the roofline perfectly, and are high enough that you don’t bump into them. As to the lower set, you’d bump your head on them coming out of the basement door. Assuming there is enough height under the deck there for someone coming out of the basement door (if not too tall a person) to stand upright, it would be nice not to have the braces there to bump into when walking out into the yard.