Finding a Condo in the City: Jan’s Journey Part 3
Hi again. It’s Casey’s mom, Janimal, here, with my third and final blog post. Two ago weeks, I told you about the first steps I took to downsize and move from my large home in a southwest suburb of Chicago to a small condo in the heart of the city. Then, last week, I continued my story by relaying how I purged most of my furniture and belongings and moved to a temporary rental home in the city. (As I look back on that long, complicated process, I can hardly believe it actually worked, but I’m so grateful that it did!)
So, this week, I will be sharing with you how I found my new neighborhood, the amenities that were important to me in my new home, and how I decided on my brand new style! Let’s get to it!
Loving The City Life
When I left you last week, I had temporarily moved into my son, Ryan’s, condo in Wicker Park. He had purchased a bigger place and had not yet rented this condo, so I became his tenant. I felt very grateful because I now had plenty of time to do some house hunting and find my perfect condo. Ryan’s condo was a wonderful place for me to stay and get used to life in the city. It didn’t take long before I felt right at home. I loved being able to walk to restaurants and stores and to take public transportation wherever I wanted to go. And my work commute had gone from an hour or more to fifteen minutes! I wondered why it had taken me so long to make my move!
Wicker Park is a vibrant neighborhood in Chicago and it is close to all of my children’s homes, so it didn’t take me long to realize that this neighborhood, or one very close to it, was the location where I wanted to live. As much as I loved staying at Ryan’s place, I knew it wasn’t going to be my permanent home because of a couple of factors. Since I am not getting any younger, I really wanted to find a place with an elevator. Ryan’s place has a lot of stairs and while it worked for the time I was there, it wasn’t a permanent solution for me. Also, his parking spot is right behind the building, but it is not covered. Again, thinking about my age, I realized that I didn’t want to have to deal with ice and snow all winter long. Garage parking and an elevator became “musts” for my house hunting. (Note: Even though Ryan’s condo was not my permanent condo, it became my daughter, Elizabeth’s, permanent condo! After I moved out, she ended up buying it from Ryan and has been living there, happily, ever since!)
House Hunting in the City
I worked with a very kind, patient, and knowledgeable realtor at @properties, Neringa Northcutt, who showed me many, many homes in my desired neighborhoods and in my price range. She understood my “musts” – garage parking, an elevator, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large dining area, and a large living room area, along with an outdoor balcony. It may not sound like it would be difficult to find all of these amenities in a Chicago condo, but we had to look at dozens of properties before we found the winner! One thing that made finding the “right” condo so hard is that I wanted a dining area that was big enough to host my whole family. That was difficult and it took about six months of looking, but eventually, we found it!
When I was house hunting for my “perfect” condo, I had to concentrate on finding a place with “good bones” and I overlooked colors and decor that I didn’t care for. That’s true for most anyone who is house hunting. Rarely does someone walk into a place and feel right at home with all of the decorating choices. I kept reminding myself that I could change colors and I could have some work done as long as the size was right and the location was good. The condo that I found is in a small building with nine units and my unit is on the third floor. It is in Bucktown, which is right next to Wicker Park – exactly where I wanted to be. It has all of my “musts” and it is a few blocks from the train, very close to the expressway and very near my children’s homes. Success at last!
Closing and Moving In
I closed in October and moved to my new home, about half a mile from where I was living in Ryan’s condo. That’s when the fun really began! When I moved from my suburban home, I brought the requisite items that I would need in Ryan’s condo but I didn’t worry much about style. At that point, it was all about function. I brought two bedroom sets, a dining room table, and a living room grouping, along with some bookcases, lamps, and knick-knacks. I didn’t want to buy anything new until I had a permanent home and could purchase specific items for my home. That meant that my old style came right along with me and I plopped it all down in a condo that needed some major updating. So, if I’m honest, my “new” home wasn’t very pretty right in the beginning, but I knew Casey would help me make it beautiful.
Finding My New Design Style
The first thing I had to do was decide what colors I wanted to use in my new place. I had come from a home full of warm, earthy tones and while it had worked in the past, I was ready for a brand new style, all my own. Casey suggested that I start looking at pictures on Pinterest just to get an idea of what I liked. I spent lots of time pinning rooms that I was drawn to and when I took the time to view them all together, I realized that I was drawn to a light, neutral palette. I also realized that most of the pictures were of very feminine rooms. I’ve never thought of myself as a “girly-girl”, but that’s what my Pinterest pictures were telling me. (P.S. Casey actually did an entire series about finding your design style. If you need help, you can follow her steps right here!).
I decided to go with off whites and grays for the wall colors and I had the whole condo painted right away. I used “Balboa Mist” (Benjamin Moore) in most of the condo and “Gray Owl” (Benjamin Moore) in my bedroom, along with “Chelsea Gray” (Benjamin Moore) in the guest bedroom. That gave me a soft neutral palette to start with. The rest of the decorating was a “one step at a time” process.
One of the first things Casey convinced me to change was the kitchen. I kept the cabinets but I had them painted the same “Chelsea Gray” as the guest room and I finished them off with new brass pulls. I also had new white quartz countertops installed, along with a new sink and faucet and I changed the bright blue backsplash to a clean, white subway tile. Casey found some gorgeous brass pendants that hang over the island and wooden barstools that work perfectly. We also found an old china cabinet and had it painted a medium gray to blend with the other items. You can read more about the entire kitchen transformation in this blog post and find all of the sources there.
Another area that I wanted to change right away was the fireplace and the wall next to it. I found a carpenter to create built-ins for me along the wall and to update the fireplace with a new mantle and shiplap above it. Some new marble tile around the fireplace completed the look and the whole room felt transformed. You can read more about my living room transformation right here.
My bedroom closet isn’t very big and there is very little extra storage in the condo, so I decided to have another wall of built-ins created for my master. This time, instead of hiring a carpenter, I went with a closet company – Closet Works. You can read all about it here. Casey helped me pick the perfect cabinet color and hardware and I have loved it since the moment it was installed. Plus, you wouldn’t believe how much storage there is now!
Replacing the Old with New
While I was having different areas of the condo updated, I started thinking about replacing my “functional, but not very pretty” furniture and accessories with items that would match my new style. I did this slowly and deliberately, focusing on one piece at a time. One of the first things that I replaced was my sectional in the living room. I had always loved my sage green, corduroy sectional, but it was 25 years old and the color didn’t work anymore, so Casey helped me find this off white beauty (you can read more about the living room transformation here). Next, I replaced my coffee table and added some new chairs and a new rug and accessories.
I bought everything intentionally. There were no impulse purchases. Casey told me that I had to LOVE each piece before I could buy it and that’s just what I did. What good advice that was! I never made a mistake being so intentional about each purchase. Thanks, Casey!
The old kitchen table set that I brought with me was eventually replaced with this cool farmhouse table and bench and I love it! As you can see, it has seating for my whole family and that makes me happy!
I replaced all of the rest of the furniture the same way – piece by piece. The only “leftover” items that I didn’t replace are the nightstands in my bedroom. I have always liked them and they fit perfectly next to the bed, so they stayed. Other than those, every other piece of furniture that I brought with me to the condo was eventually replaced with something new and more my style. The end result is a home that is cohesive and comfortable and cozy.
After the living room, dining room, kitchen, and bedroom were complete, Casey helped me refresh my master bathroom. I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on demolition and reconstruction, so it was a small refresh. I kept the bathtub, shower, and the tile, but I replaced the builder-grade vanity, the lighting, the mirror, the sink, and the faucet. As you can see, the result was pretty impressive. I love the new, light, bright, feminine look.
A Worthwhile Journey
This journey of mine from the big suburban house to the small city condo is long and complicated, but, if I can do it, then you can too! If you are thinking of downsizing and finding a new style all your own, I would encourage you to GO FOR IT! I have found such joy and a sense of freedom in taking this journey. Whenever I walk in the door, after being gone for a while, I always call out, “I’M HOOOOOME” and it feels so good!
Jan’s Downsizing Journey
I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m married to Finn & mom to Rory and Ellis. Together we’re creating our dream home in Chicago, one DIY project at a time.