What we originally thought…
We initially wanted to do a fixer upper that we lived in while doing a mix of DIY projects and larger renovations via a contractor. When we decided to work on this project, we realized that the scale was WAY beyond our abilities to do ourselves: not only did we want to change the layout (which makes sense given the conversion from two apartments to a single family home), but the plumbing and electrical needed to be updated which would involve replacing all the existing plaster walls. In other words, for
sanity safety and convenience we wouldn’t be able to live there while the work went on.
[Kripa: To be clear, Brian at one point said to me “we could live here while we do the work” LIKE A CRAZY PERSON. ]
For a project that was turning into a major renovation, it was pretty necessary we to hire an architect to help nail down the floor plan and also handle getting all the permits (which is a big deal in Chicago).
[Kripa: By big deal, he means nightmare.]
Step 1: Program requirements
To kick off the layout brainstorming process, we drafted a document back in April on what we were thinking to share with the architect. We want to balance our own wants/needs with resale considerations. In other words, we needed to make sure we were positioning ourselves well for resale, and not dropping a bunch of money on a custom house that no one else would ever want to live in.
[Kripa: This was the argument I had to use to stop Brian for making every room a “hidden” room.]
Below is a mix of the core ‘program requirements’ (architect speak for ‘what you really need’) and some strong preferences:
- 4 bedroom minimum, 5 ideally
- 4 bath, 1 in the basement
- 1 bed/bath on first floor for family members who can’t accommodate stairs
- Master bedroom with master bath
- Hardwood floors
- Finished basement to code
- Kitchen has living space attached
- Large kitchen with lots of natural light
- Place to do woodworking in the basement
- Area near any entry to store shoes and jackets when coming inside, drop off kid stuff
- Mudroom/drop space in back (coming in from garage/backyard)
- Large master closet (ideally walk in)
- Decent pantry
Meeting with the architect
We met with our architect, David, to review the program requirements in mid-April, and started brainstorming floor plans in May. The goal was to get to “schematic design” (a rough floorpan), which becomes the basis for the detailed construction documents and permit documents. David showed up with some initial ideas, and plenty of tracing paper so we could riff on ideas as we went.
[Kripa: Not pictured: our baby trying to eat all the tracing paper.]
Step 2: Design development
About two weeks later, we got an initial layout from the architect (more on that in a future post). We had been meeting on the weekend, but to keep things moving we decided to meet on a few weeknights remotely via a Slack screen share. Slack has a drawing functionality so we could look at David’s screen and draw over it so we could all brainstorm but be working on the same file in his design software. We got into more details with elevations and some 3D renderings of key areas (like the kitchen!).
[Kripa: Not sponsored by Slack, even though it sounds like it is. Brian is just weirdly obsessed with Slack. I’m not even sure why this is relevant for this post? Note to self, draft all posts first myself.]
Step 3: Construction documents and permits
By June we had 50% construction documents (very detailed to my eye, but I think “50%” helped communicate that changes were still coming) so we could get realistic bids from general contractors. We wanted to submit the bids with the contractor attached, so we needed to select the contractor ASAP.
I’ll note that we had initially met with some general contractors right after making an offer on the building, and had done initial walkthroughs with multiple general contractors to get ballpark estimates (which, in case you were wondering, were not super precise and came with a lot of caveats that the estimate could go up-up-up once real detailed plans were made). So at this stage we were going back and asking for real bids, which took about 3 weeks to get in. We ultimately chose a contractor we had a strong reference for and who we got along with, so we were good-to-go there.
[Kripa: Fun fact, 68% of all general contractors in Chicago are Irish. I am 43% sure of that statistic.]
We kept working with David to refine the decisions, and then we were able to submit for permits in mid-August!
Then the permit process took about 4 months. Yes, that’s a long time, but we went into it thinking 3-4 months was realistic given Chicago’s long permitting process (we heard 3 months as a common estimate from some experienced people), so ultimately not TOO terrible. For those considering a similarly-sized project: there are firms/architects who are part of Chicago’s self-certification permit program which can speed up the process.
The 4-month permit timeline was good in one unexpected way: it gave us time to catch a second wind in terms of having the mental energy to spend on this project after the intense design process. We also had a chance to imagine ourselves in the space, which (we hope) has helped us percolate in preparation for all the sourcing and construction decisions we’ll be making over the next couple of months.
But I want to see the !*$&ing final plans?!?
Gotcha. And good news: we’ll be showing our plans in the next post!!