If you’re a fan of HGTV, you know the popular series formulas about young couples who go on a house hunt and bring along the experts to help them see the potential they can’t see, and transform a diamond in the rough into the home of their dreams.
There were no cameras rolling when Stuart Cohen and Julie Hacker of Evanston-based Cohen-Hacker Architects LLC met a couple who wanted to relocate from the Lincoln Park area, but the process and outcome were very similar.
“We had been looking for a house in Evanston for almost one year prior to finally finding our house,” says the wife. “Wonderfully, Stuart and Julie worked with us during the process and helped us evaluate the rehab potential of the various homes we were seeing.”
It’s not always easy.
The Evanston housing market is booming so good finds don’t stay on the market for long. Add to that the complication of purchasing a historic home in a historic district and the myriad restrictions and parameters that must be understood before embarking on any substantial renovation.
After touring many houses, the couple chose an 1896 Queen Anne Victorian built by architect John Jennings—who is noted for designing four other houses in Evanston, along with the original Lincoln School on Main Street.
“This home does fall in the historic district so it did have to go through the historic preservation commission,” Hacker explains. “I’m a commissioner so I know how difficult it is sometimes to get these things through.”
Many of the changes that were made during the renovation process included putting things back to the way they were originally, such as restoring the walls that separate a formal parlor from a living room. But other choices were made to bring more light into the home and make it more functional for modern living.
“We took one bedroom on the second floor and added it into the master suite so we’d have enough space for a master suite and some closets,” says Cohen. “We also reconfigured some areas to create a laundry room on the second floor.”
Official bedroom count was reduced but as a result, more functional living spaces were created—including a big, open kitchen that opens to a formal dining room and a family room for the couple’s two children.
“The end result is a dream,” says the wife, “Our family adores our house, its natural light, the overall feeling, the attention to detail Julie and Stuart put into it, and its style. It was important to us that we had a home in which all the spaces were used. Julie and Stuart did a fantastic job of creating a use for each room and now, our house has the perfect place for us to live so happily—for our children to grow and for us to stay for years to come.”
Cohen and Hacker say that part of their mission with this project was to examine the original historic structure and evaluate all the boxy additions that have been made over the last century. As was common during certain generations, many “expansions” were poorly constructed, add-on rooms that were done without consideration of architecture or flow.
“There were some weird things that happened over time,” explains Cohen. “For example, to get to the kitchen and family area from the front of the house you had to go through a butler’s pantry.”
In the end, the architectural duo deconstructed and restored the old house into a modern home that blends old and new seamlessly. The final product not only made one Evanston family happy, but it secured Cohen-Hacker an AIA Small Projects Award and an Evanston Preservation Award in 2017.
“We had a great contractor and great young designer, Suzanne Klettzien who did all the furniture.” says Hacker. “It was a fun process. We’ve been doing this for a long time and there was good karma with this project.”
Cohen agrees. “It went very smoothly,” he adds. “We really enjoyed working with this couple.”
In keeping with the formula of home makeovers and happily ever after, the question of overall favorite must be raised.
The wife concedes that while they love every part of the restored home—particularly the new, light-filled kitchen that opens to the dining room—what stands out most of all is how Cohen and Hacker seemed to hone in on what they wanted in their dream home.
“Through this process, they were able to get to know us, our taste, style, and well before we ever realized it, they came to understand exactly what we wanted as a final product,” the wife says. “They also came to look at our former house. They wanted to see how we lived in it, which spaces we used, what we liked and didn’t like. We were really impressed that they would take the time to get to know us this way and couldn’t be more happy with how it all turned out.”
Cohen-Hacker Residential Architects is located at 1322 Sherman Avenue in Evanston, 847-328-2500.