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Originally published November 25, 2011 at 10:00 PM | Page modified November 26, 2011 at 10:59 PM

An ugly duckling is transformed

A formerly rundown, vacant home gets a major makeover, with the owners spending more on the remodel than the purchase price.

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

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KENILWORTH, Ill. — The house has the features you'd want in a residence in an upscale neighborhood — paneled library, lots of windows and French doors opening onto a courtyard with a fountain, an up-to-the minute kitchen. And who could ever leave that master suite?

But these are the "after" pictures.

When Judy and Joe Konen found the house in suburban Chicago, the dead mice in the indoor swimming pool were just the beginning. The lovely red brick had been painted white, and two bizarre 20-foot-tall structures that might be called domes perched on the roof.

Perhaps worst of all, the house was dark. Orren Pickell Designers & Builders added and enlarged windows and French doors, and now there are gracious hallways and a coveted view of Lake Michigan.

The Konens wanted to move back to the suburb of Kenilworth after living in the city a decade. They had purchased a Pickell-remodeled home in 2000, and after interviewing other builders decided to hire his firm again.

Judy Konen found the house by entering in an online search the features for the couples' perfect home — five bedrooms for visiting children and grandchildren, swimming pool, first-floor master or an elevator and half an acre of land. But she didn't put in a price range, and this home that had been vacant for two years was listed below the amount they had been considering.

They drove by the house now and then, and it took her a couple of months to talk Joe Konen into looking inside the house, and on that fateful day their real-estate agent decided to stay outside.

"The stench was horrible," said Judy Konen. "It had been vacant a couple of years and the previous owners had exotic birds that they let fly around."

They bought the house at the end of 2009 because they liked the location.

And there was more.

"Judy saw the flow," said her husband. "The original house flowed well. The addition with the swimming pool was a different story. But I noticed the basement was dry as a bone, and everything looked solid. People we had look at it said it had good bones."

Joe Konen, who is retired as president of Ameritrade Holding, a brokerage, admits the fixing up cost more than the purchase price, and he does not want to reveal the totals.

But the couple discussed some of their internal financial negotiations.

Judy Konen really wanted the living-room fireplace to be rebuilt so it could be a see-through to the dining room and have a third opening in the sitting room of the second-floor master suite.

Tearing it down from the roof to the basement and rebuilding cost about $30,000.

Joe Konen, on the other hand, teases that not even his wife knows how much he spent on the home's audiovisual features.

Pickell's marketing calls the home an ugly duckling transformed into a swan. One thing that saved the house from being torn down is that municipal rules mean a remodeled house could be 900 square feet larger than a new one. However, the couple did bid against a builder who wanted to tear it down, said Joe Konen.

Pickell says a good floor plan has a "formal, clean, quiet side," and you can draw a line between it and the "dirty, noisy, casual" part.

While some rooms can cross over, the garage, mud room and kitchen are definitely casual, said Pickell.

"This side couldn't lay out any more perfectly if you built a house from scratch," he said of the formal front of the house.

But the rear swimming-pool room and family room, which were added only a few years after the original house was built in 1953, were all but demolished by the Pickell team.

The rooms in the original or formal part of the house are pretty much the sizes they were, but the uses have changed.

For example, the library paneled in knotty alder and reached through French doors had been the dining room.

With the help of Thomas Sarti Girot Interiors of Park Ridge, the Konens figured out from the new floor plans where each painting in their extensive art collection would hang.

That means it was easy during construction to install electrical outlets for lighting the pictures, and niches were built specifically for large urns.

They also reused most of the furniture from their previous Kenilworth home with only a bit of reupholstering. The home's paint palette features yellow with a touch of green.

The wall of windows and glass doors opening to the courtyard make the living room stunning.

The house also enjoys a backyard overlooking a park. These landscape features add considerably to Judy Konen's enjoyment of the house.

Another highlight is the kitchen, which replaced what Pickell called a lanai or lean-to that was the family room and connection to the pool room.

Its features include granite countertops, glazed wall cabinets and knotty-oak ones with a driftwood finish for the island.

"It's my dream kitchen," said Judy Konen "with two ovens, microwaves and warming drawers. It parties well."

On the second floor the master bedroom had been one long room, but neither Pickell or the Konens can figure out how it worked.

Now the bedroom shares that space with the limestone-and-marble bathroom and its huge shower.

What was previously the master bath is a sitting room with Judy Konen's fireplace.

She is especially pleased with the way the hallways were reconfigured, including a laundry area that can be hidden behind doors.

Her sewing area features a view of the lake and built-in cabinets designed to her specifications.

This can be shut off from the two rear bedrooms that grandchildren can reach from the second staircase.

The elevator shaft was one of the few floor-plan elements that could not be changed, said Pickell, although the elevator itself is new. On the exterior of the house, the paint was removed with a new chemical-peel process that included laying large pads on the house for 24 hours.

All the brick that was removed was saved for repairs, and new brick that closely matched was found for the rear of the house.

Joe Konen was pleased the project came in under budget and before the scheduled deadline. His wife is happy, too.

"The transformation is amazing," said Judy Konen.

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