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Photography by Kate Roth
Styling by Arden Nelson
“They definitely come from different ends of the design spectrum,” Nelson says.
When the couple began their house search in 2002, they did agree on a few things. They wanted a brick house big enough for their expanding family. They also wanted to stay in Wicker Park. Heidi was a founding partner in the neighborhood’s popular Milk & Honey Café; Ian is a real estate agent and building developer who has spent his career renovating area condos. “We feel like we really helped build this neighborhood. We’ve been together for nine years and even though we’ve moved around, we’ve always had the same phone number,” Ian says. And finally, they both wanted a house with an open floorplan that they could flood with light.
Despite the house’s brick exterior and ideal location-a short walk from the intersection of Milwaukee, Damen, and North avenues-Heidi was initially less than impressed. “It was so run down, I didn’t see any potential. Period,” she says. Ian wasn’t so quick to dismiss. “Since I do this every day, I was able to look past the mold and the water damage-and there was a lot of it-and see what this house could become,” he says. He stayed up nights drawing floor plans and leaving them for Heidi to review in the morning. “The house had so much of what we wanted, even a park across the street. Eventually, we came up with a plan that would work for us,” he says.
The 115-year-old house was gutted down to the studs and thoroughly updated, but care was taken to preserve its vintage charms. “We didn’t want to forget that this house had a past,” Ian says. “It was important to us to save the things that made it so special.”
Original woodwork was salvaged from throughout the house and reinstalled. A built-in china cabinet in the hallway was restored to its vintage splendor. But at the same time, high-tech amenities like heated floors in the bathrooms and in the basement brought the house into the 21st century.
When the Feinermans bought the house, one of its loveliest features was an original half-moon stained glass window over the main window in the living room. But a thief apparently also found it irresistible. “Ian came by the house one day and felt a draft. The stained glass window was missing, and so was the mantel. Someone had pulled it right off the wall and taken off with it,” Heidi says.
To replace the stolen stained glass, the owners chose a simple, clear-glass leaded window that’s traditional in style but blends well with the home’s modern touches. Nelson also salvaged tiles from the fireplace façade and used them to decorate the riser of the bottom step of the stairway in the front hall.
“We wanted to keep the tiles because they’re unique and original to the house, so Arden went through the ones that were in good shape and created a pattern,” Ian says. On the other steps, Nelson used a mix of tiles to pick up the room’s color scheme and create an eye-catching, warm welcome to the home. They draw the eye upward to the second floor, where there’s a master suite that opens onto a large deck, along with a nursery and a comfortable guest bedroom and bath.
A sleekly tiled surround was created for the fireplace, which contains its original iron firebox. Its crisp white minimalism contrasts with the living room’s warm brick walls, which were lightened by sandblasting. Ian’s modern bent is further satisfied in this part of the house by the striking chandelier over the dining table, the coolly contemporary cream-colored chairs, and a painting by artist Marketa Sivek that the couple bought at Wicker Park’s Around the Coyote arts festival a few years ago.
“I love that this room, and this house, is modern with Old World touches,” Heidi says. The sofa, a vintage piece from Nelson’s personal collection, successfully blends the couple’s aesthetics. Its lines are modernist and geometric, its upholstery a traditional, soft-hued velvet. “It was something I’d been holding on to for years, looking for the right place to put it.
I brought it to them all dirty and old and they fell in love with the clean lines,” Nelson says.
In the first-floor bathroom, Nelson chose embossed, textured wallpaper from Thybony and had it painted light green to lend a vintage feel to the room. “Most people paint it metallic to look like tin, but Arden thought [color would give it] texture and warmth,” Heidi says. Some of the black-and-white family photos displayed above the wainscot date back about 100 years; one of them shows Heidi’s grandfather as a boy in Sweden.
At the rear of the house, the kitchen continues the old-meets-new theme. Italian cabinets and stainless steel appliances are modern, but the farmhouse-style sink and iron light fixtures (from a 19th-century French ship) over the table keep the room timeless.
Dominating the space is a freestanding, custom-made island loosely based on a design Nelson saw at Expo Design Center. “The island is definitely Arden,” Ian says. “Heidi and I went back and forth over the counter so many times. I’m sick of granite. Heidi wanted butcher block. Arden came up with this warm but cool marble that’s one and a half inches thick.”
Who knew compromise could be so beautiful?