Historic House Tour: The Wrigley Mansion

Are you ready for some eye candy? Historic Wrigley Mansion--former home of the chewing gum magnate--is on the market for the low, low price of $7.15M. (Maybe we could all pool our money?) It's a mind-numbing 13,000 square feet with 9 bedrooms and a ballroom. It also features STUNNING woodwork and a number of lovely fireplaces, which is why we're here today.

This home is on the National Register of Historic Places and I hope whomever buys it turns it into a museum so I can visit. I screen-grabbed some images from the virtual tour on the real estate listing, so please ignore the weird circles and arrows. The actual photos were TINY and I wasn't having any of that.

Some quick stats before we dive in: it was built in 1896 in Italian Renaissance Revival style. In addition to the ballroom there's a walk-in vault(!), a solarium, and the property taxes are $150,000 a year.

Behold:

I highly recommend checking out the virtual tour on the property listing. Swoon!

While we're on the topic of historic buildings, what are some interesting places in your neck of the woods? If you're ever near Chicago, I suggest a quick trip to Oak Park to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. (You could actually see several Frank houses in one day. Efficient!) Additionally, it's NOT in Chicago but Hearst Castle is worth a tour because it's so delightfully over-the-top. What historic places should people visit in your area?

Early Spring Outdoor Projects

We've been having freakishly warm weather and an abnormal amount of sunshine in Chicago. (Well, except for tomorrow. The forecast says 30--ugh.) But generally speaking, February has been kind to us and everybody has been dashing outside to take advantage of it before things get dreary again.

Last week I had a couple of thoughts about the state of our yard, now that I've actually spent some time out there. One: everything is still REALLY dead. Two: maybe we should do some sprucing to make it look less like the scary part of a fairy tale. It's too early to plant anything, and even if we did I know the cold weather will eventually be back, thus killing it, but there are plenty of other things we can do to enjoy this little heat wave while we have it.

1. String up some lights. Even if you do nothing else, lights will be an instant ambience booster. Look at the picture above: don't you feel welcome at the fire pit? It's so cozy and the lights were a big part of that. You can hang them from poles like we see here, drape them across a pergola, or wrap them around a tree. 

2. Clean! Nobody likes to do it, but your yard might not be looking so hot right now. This is a good time to rake any stray leaves you didn't get to in the fall, power wash the deck, or uproot any dead annuals that you'll re-plant later. Get yourself back to a fresh slate so you're ready for other projects when the weather warms up for real.

3. Bring out the patio furniture. Most people either store their outdoor furniture for the winter or cover it with a tarp. Let it out for some air! Yes, you'll probably have to put it back before Real Spring arrives, but why not lounge in the sun while it's 60 in February? If your furniture stays out year-round, you can still shake things up with a couple of new outdoor pillows.

4. Build a planter box. It's not planting season for most of us yet, but there's no reason we can't bust out some tools and start working now. This tutorial is excellent.

How's the weather where you are? Do you have any outdoor projects planned for spring? How about that gorgeous outdoor furniture above? Me-ow.

Image sources: one  //  two

How to Choose A Contractor (or Other Home Pro!)

A good contractor will be one of your best friends during a home project. Finding said contractor, however, isn't always free taco day at your favorite restaurant. I've had clients who are nervous about hiring anyone because the last crew dripped paint all over their hardwood floors (true story!). Heck, even I had a debacle at the old house in which a plumber repaired our sewage ejector pump incorrectly the first time and "had" to charge us again for a replacement. Insert eye-roll here.

Anyway, with all of the hiring I do for clients and myself, I've discovered how to find the good eggs in the basket and skip the rest. Here's what you should do before hiring a crew:

1. Ask around. Your friends and family will sing the praises of contractors they like, so grab that information and use it. Speaking from experience, both on a personal and professional level, this is the best way to find a quality crew. And if none of your nearest and dearest have a recommendation for a particular project, don't be afraid to ask a trusted pro if they know anyone. For example: I always ask my real estate agent first because he's given me solid referrals in the past and I totally trust his judgment.

2. Get multiple quotes. If you ask your friends and family and trusted professionals and STILL come up empty-handed, it's time to get some estimates. As tempting as it might be, don't hire the first person you Google. Too much information is better than not enough, so I recommend getting three (or more!) quotes for your project before pulling the trigger. And get them in writing! Not only will this help you remember what everybody said (because you will forget), but having a clear scope of work will keep both of you on the same page and prevent any "surprises" later.

3. Quiz them. When a pro comes to your house for an estimate that’s the time to ask all of your questions. This goes for trusted referrals AND newbies you find online. I grill them about their hourly rate, project timeframe, who buys the materials, etc., and honestly, I want everything answered right then. If your contractor is doing a lot of um-ing and I-don’t-know-ing, then they’re probably not the one you want. (Or at the very least, they’re not knowledgeable enough to be running around writing estimates, so who’s to say what they tell you will be accurate?) All of the good contractors I've hired have been excited to talk about their work, anyway, so don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re not sure about something.

4. Determine your dealbreakers. Everybody has different priorities for a home project and you need to find a contractor who will check most of those boxes. At Casa Ronchetti, we go for professionals with three things: great communication skills, short order availability (because when I have a gap in my schedule we need to GO), and a willingness to let us DIY part of the project. Your needs will probably be different--most people don't WANT to tile a shower--so take a few minutes to pinpoint the must-haves before you hire anybody.

What do you look for in a home professional? Any other tips to share? And since we all have one, what’s the worst project fail that’s happened to you? Ours might be the ejector pump fiasco, because sewage backing up into the bathroom is such a great time.