Two homes restored to splendor of Victorian Chicago

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

There are two ways to renovate a worthwhile old building. It can be restored to its original beatuy, preserving the handcrafted details in the process. Or it can be torn out completely and a fresh, modern design put into an old shell.

Two houses on Jackson Boulevard, in what was one of this city's most elegant neighborhoods at the turn of the century, illustrate the two techniques -- and each ofthem is a success.

William L. Lavicka of Hisotoric Boulevard Services, a structural engineer, was involved in the renovation of both buildings in the 1500 block of the Near West Side community which has been restored by the owners.

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Mr. Lavicka's house, designed by architect John Mills Van Osdel in 1883, was brought back to the Victorian beauty it once expressed. Dr. Kenneth D. Schmidt's home next door wasn't in as good condition and so he opted to tear out the interior walls, even the lath, and build entirely new rooms.

Some 17 loads of debris were removed from the Schmidt home as the parlor walls were remvoed and the main-floor hallway taken out to create a spacious living room.

In the Lavicka home, remodeled by Mr. and Mrs. Lavicka over a three-year period, built-in shutters, parqueted floors, ceiling molding and cornices, and walls were restored. Although it had been a rooming house for many years, the building was in basically good condition. Also, the couple liked the appointments from the Victorian era when all of the work was done by hand.

The difference in cost between the two renovating techniques is around $50 a square foot, according to Mr. Lavicka. His house was restored by professionals under his direction at $40 to $50 a square foot, while the Schmidt renovation cost about $100 a foot.Yet even this figure was less than the cost of new construction, according to Dr. Schmidt.

Because he had some large antique pieces which he wanted to display in the living room, a 30-by-60-foot room was created from what had been the front and back parlors of the original house, designed and built by stone mason Henry Furst of Furst & Rudolph.

The Schmidt residence also was designed for maximum fuel economy in the 1980s with three separate heating systems.

One is for the garden apartment created in what used to be the basement. The Second heating system is for the first floor which has the major heating and cooling load. The third if for the second and third floors of the house.

As a result, heating the 5,000-square-foot building has been kept to $110 a month while air-conditioning costs about $8 a day. The utility costs are kept down because separate areas can be heated or cooled individually.

In the Schmidt house the kitchen was originally in the basement, traditional at that time. A modern kitchen was put on the first floor where Dr. Schmidt has an antique clock and other treasures in keeping with the Victorian style of the house.

Mrs. Lavicka's kitchen retains its original first-floor location and much of the brickwork and woodwork. The wood floor was sanded and sealed. The only updating was to provide modern electrical power and appliances. Also, a 20 th-century pass-through was built between the kitchen and dining room.

Mr. Lavicka points out that while he did the renovation on a gradual basis, one floor at a time -- and taking off a year to finish the job -- he would recommend doing all the work at one time because it is less costly and messy.

"Spending money on professional advice is money well spent," he adds. He also says he believes that money spent on good plans "puts ideas and words into drawings and specifications." Dr. Schmidt emphasizes: "Don skimp on plans."

An architectural statement isn't as important to him as putting in timeless things. One of the timeless things which the Lavickas added to their home was a wood cornice between the front and back parlors. The original was made of plaster, similalr to a design used in the master bedroom. He decided to have the cornice made out of wood so as to put a finishing touch to the first-floor room.

Interestingly, everyone on the block started with the exterior renovation.

"It gave us all a lift," concludes Mr. Lavicka, "and prepared us for the long renovation process inside."

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