How We Designed an Abandoned Mansion with No Buyer

Sweet Like Candy

The Details:

Investment: $350,000-$500,000

Designer: Erin Gross of EGI Design Inc.

Developer: iCandy Realty

Photographer: Neil Sy Photography

Location: Glencoe, Illinois

This gorgeous home located in Chicago’s north shore gave Areté its first major remodeling challenge. The house stood empty for a while before Areté partnered with iCandy Realty to purchase and flip. Both parties were no strangers to flipping homes before, but this was their biggest project yet. Before this mansion was abandoned, it stood as a homeless shelter for veterans in the Glencoe area. Unfortunately, it was never brought up to city code and the approval to open the homeless shelter was never filed in the first place.

The city of Glencoe had to shut the place down and relocate the individuals who were living there to another facility. Because of this sudden shutdown, the house stood on the market for months and was priced well below its actual value. When iCandy and Areté scooped it up, they knew they had a great opportunity to make a substantial profit if they could figure out how to turn a closed-off homeless shelter into a single-family mansion.

The house had great bones, but everything needed to be torn out in order to properly turn this place into a homebuyer’s dream. With the help of iCandy’s development team and interior designer Erin Gross, Areté was able to open up the space and create a beautiful home that any family would be lucky to move into. When you first enter, there is a beautiful winding staircase that welcomes guests into a spacious open floor plan. Each room on the first floor flows freely with the help of white oak hardwood flooring.

A custom-designed wet bar connects the dining room to the kitchen. Gorgeous eggshell cabinets hide the fridge and dishwasher, making the dual ovens the star of the show. A home office is found upstairs with a custom-built desk and bookcase combination. The master bedroom is the real show stopper with a gorgeous fireplace, big windows, and a lovely reading nook adjacent to the space. The master bathroom is a jaw-dropper, too, with a porcelain stand-alone tub and a huge walk-in shower. Below, interior designer, Erin Gross, walks us through the decision-making process of this expansive house flip and how we were able to turn this abandoned shelter into a luxurious single-family home.

Tell me a bit about the design process that went into this project. Did you have a target client in mind when designing?

A lot of the home was divided up before because the veterans had their own spaces within the home. The layout needed to be redesigned, and iCandy Realty’s architect had much of that taken care of by the time I came in. iCandy is an investment firm that sells and flips high-end homes. With the new design complete, it was time to bring in an interior designer and renovation team to do the build-out.

At the time, I had just finished designing Areté’s new showroom. Davor (Areté Vice President) asked me if I would be interested in partnering with them for this project. He talked with me about the need to design for a high-end client which was right up my alley. I gave Areté and iCandy a quote, and we went from there.

What were the challenges of this project?

Not having a specific client to design for was a major challenge for me. In the past, I worked alongside my clients to choose what materials they wanted, any custom items they wanted to be incorporated into the space, and any other details that needed to be worked out. Designing a home with a target niche in mind instead of a certain person is really different. There’s lots of room for interpretation, but we can’t make anything too custom out of fear that it won’t sell quickly. Buyers want a blank canvas, not a home that was designed for someone else.

Another big challenge we had was figuring out what to do with a structural pole in the middle of one of the bedrooms. During the remodeling process, we figured out that we needed an extra support beam in the middle of a room to replace a wall that we had taken out. The architect did not account for this in the drawings, so we were stuck with a random pole in the middle of the space.

After some brainstorming, I had the idea to turn the room into a library. We built the millwork around the pole and installed custom cabinetry with a desk, book shelving, and storage. After it was all said and done, you couldn’t even tell there was a random pole in the middle of the room to begin with. It looked like we originally designated this space for a home library.

What parts were the most fun to design for you?

I absolutely loved designing the fireplaces in the living room and bedroom. The living room fireplace was a stone mosaic that had a gorgeous design. We used white oak marble along the sides and designed the stone mosaic to be really unique. It was one of the more “custom” parts of the design that would appeal to all sorts of audiences. Originally, I wanted to add slabs of quartz to the sides in place of the white oak marble, but quartz melts under high heat.

It’s fine for countertops with hot pans on top of it, but when it is constantly exposed to a direct flame, you will start to have issues. We went with the same design for the master bedroom fireplace, but instead of doing a stone mosaic, we used porcelain plank tile. We used the same white oak marble slabs around the sides.

Did anything stand out about this project for you compared to others you have worked on?

It was definitely unique because of the circumstances. We were on a pretty strict deadline to get everything completed before Christmas, and we were able to reach that deadline. I also usually supply everything, including the contractors, but Areté took care of that side of things this time. It was nice to have a team of people working together handling their own roles within the project.

What’s your “designer tip” on how to tie a space this size together?

We always want to make every room unique, and when you bring a builder in, they have the same goal in mind, too. However, it’s important that there is a common denominator that ties each room in the house together. Since we didn’t have a buyer to refer to, we decided it would be best to have a neutral palette throughout the space. I typically cringe at neutral palettes, but we had to play it safe to appeal to the masses. We added unique patterns, textures, and finishes to each room to give it some spice. Once we decided on all of the design details, I laid out mood boards for each room in front of me to see it all come together. I do the same with other jobs, as well. It’s important that I visualize the flow of each room before seeing it come to fruition.

I know you had to keep the customization to a minimum, but were there any custom pieces you were able to incorporate?

One of the design flaws that I wish came to life was this tufted bench I drew for the kitchen with this really cool arched top to it. It was an attention grabber, and I’m positive that if we had a specific buyer, I would’ve had it built for sure. Ultimately, we decided it was too custom for the space and scrapped the idea. Nonetheless, we had to do something to split up the kitchen because it was just too big for a single family to know what to do with.

I broke it up into zones with a little bar area, sitting area, cooking station, and breakfast nook. I wanted to make the space have individual clusters of seating areas where a family could choose to eat and visit based on the occasion. It felt much cozier this way, and it also gave the potential buyers plenty of room to host dinner parties or have people over for brunch.

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