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How One Couple Rode Out the Recession and Transformed Their Rogers Park Home

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Photos by Nick Fochtman

Back in 2007, before the Great Recession launched the country's real estate market into a deep freeze, Jason and Michael were looking for a place to call home and purchased a lovely condo in a century-old Rogers Park building. And similar to the situation that many young couples find themselves in when first looking to buy, the pair had initially planned to own a starter home and then one day trade up to a larger space. However, as the economy made a turn for the worse, the couple decided to stay put and transform their condo into something truly special. As a blogger and former writer for Apartment Therapy, Jason has an appreciation for design and a head full of ideas. Staying put in their Rogers Park condo allowed the couple to save up and purchase a weekend retreat in Iowa, which they have also been updating and personalizing. However, this is the story about how they rode the waves of the recession and turned their starter condo into a meaningful home. As they say, when life gives you lemons, you take those lemons and transform them into a really great wall pattern.

Who lives here?
Jason Loper, my husband Michael Schreiber, and our kitty, Zola Jones

What are the stats?
We live in a 850 square foot, one bedroom plus den on the top floor of vintage building (1920's) that was rehabbed in 2007.

How long have you lived here?
Eight years.

You'd previously mentioned that you initially had thoughts to eventually trade up but the recession threw a wrench in that plan. Have you become attached to your home after living there for several years? Do you still think about getting a bigger place one day?
When we bought this condo in 2007, it was with the intention of selling up within a few years. And then the real estate market crashed and that completely changed our plans. Like many other people in Chicago, we found ourselves with a condo worth far less than we paid. In some ways, that may have actually been a blessing in disguise. Because we've been "stuck" with this condo, we've lived here longer than anyplace else in our adult lives. We've continued paying down the mortgage and making little improvements to the condo. This has put us in a position to do something crazy—like buy a big, old house in Iowa. And that's exactly what we did last year. Knowing that we couldn't sell this condo and also that we weren't in a position to buy another home in Chicago, we decided to look elsewhere for another home that we could afford. We ended up finding an American System Built Home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that was within our price range. Despite being almost five hours from Chicago, we're happy to have an escape from our tiny condo—even if only on weekends. And I'm happy to have another space to DIY.

What was the inspiration behind the design of your space?
The design of this space has been a constant evolution. That's partly because we're continually trying to incorporate all our stuff into 850 square feet. And then there's the fact that I have a bit of design ADD. When we first bought the condo I was excited to do all of the things I couldn't as a renter. I painted each of the rooms a different color and applied a fabric wainscoting to one of the rooms. I installed ceiling fans and light fixtures and generally had fun being an owner instead of a renter. Each of the rooms has seen at least three different design iterations in the past eight years. After living in a color saturated home for a few years, we're back to white walls. Ultimately, I think I prefer the blank canvas of white walls. We've replaced most of the impractical furniture we originally had when we moved in with multi-purpose pieces. The Lubi Daybed from CB2 in the den doubles as a day bed. The trunk in the living room is a coffee table that also holds extra bedding. The wardrobe and the bed built-in storage allow us to continue to have lots of clothes without sacrificing close space.

You've changed the design over the years, what are some touches you're particularly proud of?
The trend may be a bit played out at this point but I still love the plumbing pipe shelving unit that we built in the den. The shelving adds some uniqueness to an otherwise boring space. I'm also very proud of the stenciled entryway. When I was working on that project a few years ago I was sure we would grow tired of it very quickly. Oddly enough, it's the one feature that hasn't been changed over the years. I love how the black and white pattern makes the entryway seem bigger than it is. I also love that it adds a punch of drama to the space. It's the first thing people see when they come over and it almost always gets a positive reaction.

Do you have any particularly interesting stories about your home?
Hmm... not really. I mean, none that can appear on a family site. :-)

What's your favorite thing about your home?
That it's OURS! Although it sometimes feels like a yoke around our necks, we haven't lost sight of the fact that one of the reasons we wanted to buy a home in the first place was because we no longer wanted to be renters. Other than that, we're on the top floor so we get some amazing light and we don't have anyone walking on top of us.

What thing do you like least about it?
That it's OURS! There are times when we've wanted to follow our neighbors' lead and walk away from this condo. But, ultimately, I'm happy that we've stuck around.

What's the best part about being in the Rogers Park area?
Rogers Park is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago. We both grew up in small towns where everyone looked like everybody else. It's refreshing to be in a neighborhood that's as culturally diverse as the city itself.

·House Calls archives [Curbed Chicago]
·Rogers Park archives [Curbed Chicago]