I live a straight shot down Lawrence from Albany Park, and I’m always impressed with it when I drive through. It’s near both branches of the river, which puts it near some of Chicago’s best parks — the beautiful stonework at Gompers is a particular favorite of mine — which also puts it near the North Branch Trail and the North Shore Channel Trail. For city biking, wide and often uncrowded Elston Avenue is a good thoroughfare, and its widely spaced stoplights make it a favorite for road bikers. It’s green, the food is great, there are lots of small grocers, and the Brown Line puts it in easy reach of downtown with rare street-level views.
It also has great houses—lots of bungalows, as you’d expect, but a bit more diverse than the Bunaglow Belt proper. And it’s still pretty affordable.
The obvious curb appeal of this stucco bungalow carries through to the inside—the gorgeous front sunroom is matched by an equally pleasant porch in back, both with the details of its vintage. The interior has been renovated with a contemporary feel and farmhouse-revival touches, and its odd angles give it cozy nooks throughout, especially in the childrens’ bedrooms. This is a kid-friendly place: the not-entirely-finished basement gives them a not-too-precious hangout, and the garage has been cleaned up as a cute play area that can take nonetheless take some beating up. With four beds and two baths over 1,800 square feet, it’s a solid family-size SFH with places that can lure the kids off to give the grownups some space.
Come on, it’s awesome and you know it. Looking closer at its McCastle exterior, you can probably guess about when it was built (2002) and what you’re actually getting: a perfectly normal interior with big, basic spaces. The living room is particularly long and light, with one of the house’s two wood-burning fireplaces. In the defensive tower just off the living room is a little piano nook. Downstairs the arrangement is mirrored by a large family room with the other fireplace, and in the lower level of the tower, a minibar, of course. It’s deceptively large (3,100 square feet with four beds and two baths), because it’s a castle, and it even has its own moat!*
*Technically the north branch of the Chicago River just behind the backyard.
This 1953 ranch isn’t your grandparents’… no, it’s totally your grandparents’ ranch. Having spent a lot of time in a house very much like this, down to the 75% finished basement and rounded, t-shaped, stainless-steel-edged kitchen counter that somehow every house that decade has. They’re incredibly pleasant, and this one—a cozy two beds and two baths across 1,500 square feet—definitely has as much age as you would like to retain. Particularly choice is the enclosed porch with sweeping awnings and astroturf, but if you want to get out and touch real grass, it has a nicely sized backyard.
As you might have noticed, this house’s exterior has somewhat unusual proportions. Inside, that gets you nine-foot ceilings, just one of the ways this six-bed, four-bath, 3,000-square-foot house is spacious. There’s the separate dining room, a nice upscale touch, the generous porch, the separate first-floor family room with fireplace, and a summer kitchen in the basement that fills it out to a full granny flat. The renovations are pretty straightforward, but it’s a lot of space for the price.
Towards the lower end of the market you’re going to have some work to do, but it’s worth it. For not much over $300,000, at a time when prices are pretty high, you get a solid 1924 bungalow with gorgeous built-ins and a big brick fireplace. With a bit of work you’ll have gorgeous wood floors. With a lot of work, you’ll have a kitchen that, well, doesn’t look like that. With even more, you’ll have more than two bedrooms and one bathroom, since there’s room to expand into the attic or unfinished (but well-maintained) basement. And since you live in Chicago, many, many people have come before you to renovate their own bunaglows, so there’s lots of guidance.