“It’s this bubble on the South Side of Chicago, this beautiful oasis of gorgeous historic homes,” Victoria explains. “This is like suburban living in the city, big yards, a lot of space.”
She’s never worked in this part of the city before and is chomping at the bit to help Danielle and Lenny Bell with the 1912 home they just bought for $491,000. They’ve been living in a 900-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn with their two kids and have decided to come back to Chicago to raise their children and be closer to family.
The home they’ve selected is an old-school beauty, with four bedrooms and 2.5 baths in 1,924 square feet of interior space.
It’s full of the types of period features Victoria loves to work with, but it also has a lot of older features that can be problematic.
“I’m so excited to complete their dream home, but that may not happen,” she says.
The Bells have budgeted $250,000 to give the place a total makeover, and Victoria makes great use of every cent. Find out what she does, including plenty of tips you might be inspired to try yourself.
Landmark status might limit what you can change
On the home’s exterior, Victoria has big plans for expanding the front porch, building a balcony on a flat part of the roof, and other structural changes. She also wants to switch the color from dull beige and brown to a sharp black and white.
Yet several weeks into the project, Victoria gets a call saying the house has “landmark status,” which means it’s been designated as having historic, artistic, or aesthetic value. It also means that they can’t change the actual structure of the facade.
While Victoria is disappointed, she’s happy that they are allowed to at least paint it. And with no expanded porch or balcony, Victoria can focus on the bigger renovations she plans to make inside.
Sometimes, it’s OK to break the open floor plan rule
While open-concept living is par for the course these days, Victoria decides to break this popular design guideline due to the age of the house.
“To maintain the charm of this house, we’re going to leave some of the walls and not go with the open concept,” she says. “It’s an old home. We don’t need to have this huge, open floor plan. I like defining the spaces.”
It makes total sense: While Victoria is all about expanding doorways to improve the flow, one big, open space just wouldn’t be right in this century-old home.
Create the perfect kitchen triangle
In the kitchen, Victoria plans carefully to make it functional, and one way she does this is with a kitchen triangle, which refers to the way the appliances are arranged.
“There’s something called ‘the perfect triangle,’ which is how you navigate between the sink, the stove, and the fridge,” explains Victoria. “And we’ve got a beautiful triangle with this layout, so it’s just going to feel great in this kitchen.”
Find inspiration images to convey your taste
“I love a woman who knows what she wants,” says Victoria, referring to Danielle. “She put together a really beautiful document for me of inspiration images. It’s great to have that feedback in order to have a starting point.”
That way, no one wastes time and energy considering items and features that are never going to make the final cut—and everyone wins.
Too many choices can be overwhelming
There comes a time when too many decisions cause a ridiculous amount of stress and frustration. Victoria knows this.
“So the way I work with clients is less is more,” she says. “Which means, I don’t give options. As I’ve worked with clients over the years, I’ve realized that sometimes you can just overwhelm a client with too many options.”
Victoria likes to become informed about her clients’ tastes first, then find things that fit it. It’s a good lesson for everyone who hires a designer to communicate your style, then let the pro take the lead. While it’s fine to speak up on any upgrades you don’t want, you should trust them to make some decisions on your behalf, lest you drown in too many choices, from paint colors to furnishings and beyond.
Give your designer space and time to surprise you
Luckily, the Bells are what Victoria considers dream clients, because they resist the urge to come in early and check out the changes while they’re in progress. This gives them the opportunity to be surprised and excited when they first see the changes. The Bells were not disappointed,
“It’s amazing,” exclaimed Danielle. “There is no way we could have done a project like this without Alison.”
Lenny agrees, saying, “Her delicate balance of bringing in new stuff, but also finding old stuff, from parts of Chicago where nobody else would look, is really masterful.”