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Before and After: Updated Chicago Row House

A creative team takes cues from the past to reinvent a Chicago row house for a young family and a new century 

Written by Amy Elbert
  • Werner Straube

    Climbing four levels and illuminated by a peaked skylight, a grand staircase was the only trace of an 1890s Chicago row house’s glory days. But that was enough to ignite the imaginations of interior designer Michael Abrams and architect Kevin Toukoumidis. “My ability to see what the house could be started with that stair,” Toukoumidis says. “The stair is historic—this crafted piece of wood, the railings and treads, and then the opening of glass at the top. It was immensely beautiful.”

    Sadly, not much else was when Matt and Teri Andresen bought the house. But the Andresens, parents of four children under the age of 15, needed the space the house offered and appreciated the location just a few blocks from their children’s school.

    A lamp original to the home—and found in the previous owner’s garage—was refurbished and installed on the stair bench, also original to the house. 

    Photography: Werner Straube
    Produced by Hilary Rose

    Architect: Kevin Toukoumidis, DSpace Studio Ltd., 2920 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, IL 60657; 773/423-2920,
    Interior designer: Michael Abrams, Michael Abrams Ltd., 1901 N. Clybourn Ave., Suite 204, Chicago, IL 60614; 773/248-3039,
    Kitchen designer: Mick de Giulio, de Giulio Kitchen Design, 1121 Central Ave., Wilmette, IL 60091; 847/256-8833,
    Contractor: John Rosenwinkel, Fraser Construction Inc., 8109 W. Ogden Ave., P.O. Box 95, Lyons, IL 60534; 708/447-3262,

    Millwork, cabinetry, trim, ceilings, baseboards: design by dSpace Studio,
    Fabrication: John Rosenwinkel, Fraser Constuction Inc.,  

    Bench; lamp: original to house.
    Lampshade: New Metal Crafts,
    Pillows: Room & Board,
    Bench cushion (“Brook Street”/Linen, Charcoal #MSC02001): Zoffany,
    Wall paint (“Vanilla Milkshake” #OC-59): Benjamin Moore & Co.,
    Skylight: dSpace Studio,

  • Before: Stairs

    The home was midway through a renovation when the Andresens took ownership and turned to Abrams for help with finishing the project. “When we came to the table, a previous owner had tried to convert it from six apartments back to a single-family home,” Abrams says. “The house at this point was completely gutted, nothing but studs and some mechanical, electrical, and plumbing roughed in. Luckily, the staircase remained; otherwise, there was none of the original architecture.”  

  • Werner Straube

    After: Stairs

    Recognizing the project’s scope, Abrams recruited architect Toukoumidis. The nearly 11,000-square-foot house is in Chicago’s Gold Coast, so replacements and repairs were thoughtfully executed to stay true to the neighborhood’s historic designs. High-efficiency, curved-glass windows were custom-made for the house’s oriel-like front bay, replicating the originals.

    To reflect the house’s elegant heritage, Abrams and Toukoumidis brought in timeless materials and architectural elements—hand-carved marble fireplace mantels, picture moldings on walls, 10-inch-high baseboards, and decorative plaster ceilings. “We created details that had traditional elements but with a clean style,” Abrams explains. “We didn’t want anything too froufrou.”

    “Every detail mattered, whether it was the curve of the baseboard or the custom plaster ceiling in the salon,” Toukoumidis adds. “We worked to get those details right.”

    Elegant, yes, but not fussy. The Andresens wanted to respect the past, but the couple’s design sensibilities lean to the modern. And with four children, two dogs, and three turtles (who live in a tank in the first-level playroom), spaces had to be practical.

    Ornate balusters were repaired and painted white to restore the original staircase. 

  • Before: Living Room

    The living room was completely gutted.

    “We wanted not just to renovate the house but to reinvent it. We didn’t want to re-create the old,” Toukoumidis says. “I think you have to nod to history, respect history, but I also think you need to create something more inventive, fresh, and exciting.”

  • Werner Straube

    After: Living Room

    That starts with evaluating how people will live in a house today, Abrams says. For the Andresens’ living room, where they often entertain, Abrams chose large-scale furnishings in keeping with the spacious room, but kept lines simple.  “Our approach was clean, tailored, and keeping things as timeless as possible,” the designer says. “Matt likes contrasts—lights and darks—so we used lots of white and black when we chose marble, wood, and paint colors.”

    A floating arrangement of matching leather chairs and a long sofa in the living room allows for traffic flow and plenty of seating near the baby grand piano in the bay window.

    Wall paint (“Revere Pewter” #HC-172); ceiling and trim paint (“Vanilla Milkshake” #OC-59): Benjamin Moore & Co.,
    Sisal rug (“Madagascar”/Glacier, by Merida): Rexx Rug,
    Drapery (“Bernini” #2453-01, Baroques Collection by Sahco): Bergamo Fabrics,
    Mantel and fireplace surround (“The Versailles,” The French Collection): Chesney’s,
    Chandelier (“Luna Piccolo” #80068): Donghia,
    Sofa (custom); coffee table (custom): Eurocraft,
    Sofa fabric (“Derby”/Avorio #TB049-276, Collection II, Armani/Casa Textiles by Rubelli): Bergamo Fabrics,
    Pillows on sofa (“Marasco” #F5854-03, Marinetti Velvets Collection): Osborne & Little,
    Chairs (“Sri Lanka Chairs” #SL0-CH): Holly Hunt,
    Round side table (“Bella Table”): Corbin Bronze,
    Chair leather (“Diva”/Silver Olive #5520-03, by Larsen Hides, discontinued): Cowtan & Tout,
    Large mirrors (#C-DUB-9615, Dublin Collection, custom size); console tables (#C-DUB-9631, Dublin Collection): Niedermaier,
    Art over mantel: owner’s collection.

  • Werner Straube

    Stylish Living Room

    Armless leather chairs face a custom table in front of the new mantel and surround from Chesney’s Fireplaces. 

  • Werner Straube

    Warm Dining Room

    Throughout the project, the designers worked to bring natural light into the interiors—a challenge in a row house with buildings on each side. A charming oval window was inset into a dining room wall, and the skylight was restored and enhanced with backlighting so it can be illuminated at night, a feature Matt particularly likes.  

    A graphite-colored Murano glass chandelier from Donghia illuminates the room’s domed ceiling. 

    Oval window: Loewen,
    Wall paint (“Revere Pewter” #HC-172); ceiling and trim paint (“Vanilla Milkshake” #OC-59): Benjamin Moore & Co.,
    Chandelier (“Luna Piccolo” #80068); sconces (“Luna” #80060): Donghia,
    Dining table (“Sutton Round Dining Table with Lazy Susan” #4081G, by Bill Sofield): Baker,
    Sideboard: owner’s collection.
    Dining chairs (custom): Eurocraft,
    Fabric (“Legacy”/Cashmere #5055/07): Pollack,
    Area rug: owner’s collection.
    Photo on sideboard (by Jed Fielding); painting on sideboard (Jeffrey Allen Price): Chicago Art Source,  

  • Werner Straube

    Gorgeous Salon

    A small salon off the living room is a study in contrasts, with a white decorative plaster ceiling, a white marble fireplace, and a white area rug, all enveloped by walls painted a rich brown with eggplant undertones.

    The molded-plaster ceiling, new fireplace surround from Chesney’s French Collection, and silk rug play against walls painted in Benjamin Moore’s “Silhouette.” A graceful “Chloe” coffee table designed by Thomas Pheasant for Baker repeats the curves of the ceiling. 

    Ceiling: design by dSpace Studio,
    Wall paint (“Silhouette” #AF-655): Benjamin Moore & Co.,
    Chandelier (“Christal Chandelier” #AA303, by Andre Arbus, discontinued); table between chairs (“Le Lion Stand”/Bronze #3782.BRZ, by Jacques Garcia); coffee table (“Chloe” #7854, by Thomas Pheasant): Baker,
    Sofa; chairs; rug: owner’s collection.
    Sofa fabric (“Harris Plush”/Fog #5039/02): Pollack,
    Pillows: Room & Board,
    Chair fabric (“Mosaic” #MSC04001): Zoffany,
    Drapery (“Detroit” #TB051-292, Collection II, Armani/Casa Textiles by Rubelli): Bergamo Fabrics,
    Mantel and fireplace surround (“The Versailles,” The French Collection): Chesney’s,
    Lights over bookshelves (“Maxine” #UE-7202): Urban Electric Co.,  

  • Werner Straube

    Spacious Kitchen

    The kitchen is all about family. Kitchen designer Mick De Giulio used a large marble-topped center island to create efficient traffic patterns and work zones. “They cook a lot, and they wanted a place for the kids to feel comfortable,” De Giulio says. A breakfast bar with refrigerator drawers, a sink, and a dishwasher runs along a wall opposite the refrigerator. “The kids can use that part of the kitchen without disturbing Teri in the main work zone,” De Giulio says.

    Backless stools are from Hickory Chair. Kitchen designer Mick De Giulio designed the stainless-steel hood, which seems to float in front of the marble backsplash. 

    Cabinetry, cooking area flanking range (de Giulio Collection in Brushed Stainless Steel with Polished Stainless Steel trim); cabinetry, main sink and refrigerator wall and island (de Giulio Collection in Honey on Walnut); cabinetry hardware (de Giulio Collection in Polished Stainless Steel); main sink (de Giulio Collection in Stainless Steel with sliding teak cutting board); island sink (de Giulio Collection in Stainless Steel with sliding teak cutting board); backsplash (brushed Calacatta marble); countertop (honed Calacatta marble); range hood (custom, in Polished Stainless Steel): de Giulio Kitchen Design,
    Main faucet and hand spray (Elio Collection, in Platinum Matte finish); island faucet (Elio Collection): Dornbracht,
    Range: Wolf,
    Bar stools (“Madigan Backless Stool”/Kohl #5750-05); side chairs (“Madigan Side Chair” #5750-02); leather (“Manhattan”/Pewter); nailheads (chrome): Hickory Chair,
    Table: Architectural Artifacts,

  • Before: Bedroom

    When the space was stripped to its studs, the bay windows offered a tiny glimpse of the magical master bedroom that was to come.

  • Werner Straube

    After: Bedroom

    Wall panels upholstered in a Donghia fabric anchor the bed and nightstands in the large room. A silk-and-wool-blend area rug softens the space, and a Boyd light fixture adds a dose of modernity. Walls are “Chelsea Gray” from Benjamin Moore. 

    Bed (custom); bench (custom): Eurocraft,
    Chaise (“Victoire” #50205): Donghia,
    Bedding: Designers Linen Source,
    Fabric on wall, chaise (“Onde Matelassé”/Pearl #10016-10, discontinued): Donghia,
    Bench fabric: owner’s collection.
    Night tables (“Faux Parchment End Table” #B8008-42-233): Barbara Barry Realized by Henredon,
    Table lamps (“Counterpoise Task Table Lamp”/Polished Nickel #68610001 PN): RH,
    Chandelier (“Catacaos Pendant” #10217): Boyd Lighting,
    Rug (“Valmarana”): Tai Ping Carpet, 312/644-0400.
    Floor lamp (“Linea Floor Lamp” #PG204, The Pagani Collection): Baker,
    Drapery (“Two Sides”/Frost #2200/12, by Great Plains): Holly Hunt,
    Sheers (“Eleni”/Ivory #7334/01, discontinued): Romo,
    Wall paint (“Chelsea Gray” #HC-168); ceiling and trim paint (“Hazy Skies” #OC-48): Benjamin Moore & Co.,

  • Werner Straube

    Cool Gray Bathroom

    Decorative plaster and mirrors set off the antique crystal chandelier. Tub and sink faucets are Kallista’s “Vir Stil” by Laura Kirar.

    Cabinetry: dSpace Studio,
    Mirror/medicine cabinet (“Candre Cabinet”): Robern,
    Sconces (“Mercury I Sconce” #9982): Boyd Lighting,
    Flooring (Calacatta marble, 12x24-inch tile); marble tub surround: Stone Source,
    Chandelier (antique, from Lamp Works): through Filsinger Chicago,
    Tub: Kohler,
    Tub fixtures, sink, and sink fixtures (“Vir Stil,” by Laura Kirar): Kallista,
    Bench (custom): Eurocraft,
    Wall covering (“Zanzibar”/Grey #VP632-19, by Elitis): Donghia,
    Ceiling and trim paint (“Hazy Skies” #OC-48): Benjamin Moore & Co.,
    Blinds (custom): Glover Shade Inc.,   

  • Werner Straube

    Boys' Room

    Custom-built bunk beds have a niche next to each bed for a reading light and alarm clock. Easy-care carpet tiles are from Flor. 

    Bunk bed and ladder (custom); window seat (custom): dSpace Studio,
    Bed fabrication: KWI Cabinetry, 847/588-7500.
    Sconces (“Boston Functional Library Wall Light” #SL2922): Circa Lighting,
    Bench-cushion fabric (by Designers Guild): Osborne & Little,
    Carpet squares: Flor,
    Window shades (“Color Wheel”/Vine #11345-2): Lulu DK,
    Desk; chairs: Pottery Barn,
    Paint (“Tranquility” #AF-490): Benjamin Moore & Co.,  

  • Werner Straube

    Front Exterior

    The limestone facade, damaged by vines and neglect, was painstakingly cleaned and restored.

    The circa-1898 limestone row house combines French and Italianate styles, architect Kevin Toukoumidis says. The designers planned for functionality, giving each floor a role: The first level houses the foyer and play areas; the second level has the living and dining rooms and kitchen; the third level is the master suite; and the fourth is the kids’ floor. 

    Windows (custom): Salb Sash & Door Co.,
    Large urn: planted by McFarlane Douglass & Co.,

  • Werner Straube

    Homeowner Portrait

    “We loved the opportunity to make the house our own, to decide all the details and make it the way we wanted it,” homeowner Matt says. Abrams and Toukoumidis share that enthusiasm. “We were so impassioned with the history of this house and the quality,” Toukoumidis says. “We were trying to make this last another 100 years.”

    Homeowners Matt and Teri Andresen sit on a built-in bench, original to the house, on the second level, the home’s main living area.

  • Werner Straube