Coming Home

An Illinois architect raised, repaired, and restored his grandmother's historic Queen Anne residence outside Chicago

Preservationists fall in love with houses all the time. Attend any meeting of your local historic commission and you're bound to hear a tale about a passionate homeowner intent on restoring a local treasure. But the protagonist is rarely a minor—let alone a 10-year-old boy. Enter Scott Javore.

In 1965, when he was in the fourth grade, the Illinois native announced that he planned to acquire his grandmother's historically significant Queen Anne house in Glencoe, on Chicago's North Shore, and someday establish his own architectural firm. "We lived next door, in a barn that my parents had converted into a Colonial Revival house in 1947," Javore remembers. "One day when I was mowing my grandmother's lawn, it all just hit me. I loved her house and was mesmerized by anything that had to do with building and design. So I told my parents, 'I'm going to live in her house when I grow up, raise my kids there, and carry on the family tradition.' Even then, I realized it was a magical place—and our family's foundation."

Twenty-six years later, true to his word, Javore bought the landmark, which his family still called "Nana's house," and opened his practice one block away, in downtown Glencoe. Now called R. Scott Javore & Associates, the firm specializes in historic preservation as well as new construction.

Scott Javore's Advice

"Look for a property with all or at least some of the original windows present and millwork, trim, and hardware intact. These are the components that create the character of the house and indicate the integrity and authenticity of the building envelope. Some is better than none, since existing architectural details can serve as a guideline in the restoration process."

"Don't be thrown by damaged or cracked foundations; they're not usually as complicated or expensive to remediate as you might think—especially given the techniques and materials available today."

"Research all of your options when it comes to materials. Many are engineered to offer 21st-century durability and technical performance. The historic reproduction market is huge and includes plumbing fixtures and even appliances."

Javore's maternal grandfather, Chicago banker James Kent Calhoun, built the six-bedroom Queen Anne in 1895, using complimentary plans printed in the Chicago Tribune. At the time, Glencoe was sparsely populated, and the gabled painted lady was only the third house on the block. Calhoun lived in the house until his death in 1943, by which time Glencoe had become a popular suburb. Scott's grandmother spent the rest of her life there. She died in 1975, the year the house turned 80.   

Javore well remembers what happened next: "My mother told us we could have the furnishings, but when I told her what I wanted, which included pieces that had always been in the house —like the living room sofa and bookcases, and sentimental things like the porch swing, she ignored me," he recalls. "I was in college and she probably figured I didn't know what I was talking about." 

To his distress, both the house and the original pieces were sold. He had to wait 15 years, until 1990, to reacquire the property. When he did, Scott and his wife, Barbara, were surprised to find the original furnishings intact. The -owners in the intervening years "hadn't done much to the place," Javore says. They were only too happy to make the Victorian pieces part of the sales agreement.

The Javores developed a five-year restoration and preservation plan. "I always suggest this to my clients because it's a good way to get a handle on your scope of work and budget constraints," he says. "It also allows you to divide the work into phases as your lifestyle and resources allow."

Upon initial inspection of his new old house, Javore felt relieved to discover that the sellers had not tampered with most of the significant architectural details. One bathroom and the kitchen had been updated, but "they were changes that could be remediated pretty easily because they were decorative more than anything else … The best old home to buy is one that's had no changes at all," he says, "and next best is one where the changes don't compromise the integrity of the house."

Unfortunately, the structural integrity of the house was compromised. Javore learned that the center of the Queen Anne—the broadest section—was sinking, and the piers under the front porch required immediate attention. He traced the problem to six decaying timber columns, which held up hardwood beams running 50 feet under the first floor. The columns (each more than seven feet tall) stood on bricks lodged in the basement's dirt floor. But the bricks were porous and "sucked moisture right into the columns," Javore explains, "which caused them to rot at the bottom."

To address the problem, he hired structural engineer Jim Greetis, then working at an architecture firm in neighboring Northbrook. Javore and Greetis came up with a solution tailored to the circumstances: "We put lally columns under the 50-foot shaft, took out the [original] timber columns, sawed off the rotting bottoms, and made round concrete piers to serve as new footings," he says. To install them, a crew of workmen had to jack up the house at least four inches, bit by bit—a tricky process that took two months.

While the house was being raised, walls cracked and, in some instances, collapsed (prompting then four-year-old Laura Javore to insist, "I'm not living in a house without walls," her father says). Javore rebuilt the old plaster walls in the center of the house near the main staircase, where the greatest subsidence had occurred. Replacing the original full-depth plaster wasn't feasible, he says: "It was done on wood lath that ranged from one-eighth to three-quarter-inches thick and wasn't consistent." He compensated by using dry wall covered with a skim coat of plaster. 

It took another two months to complete the wall repairs, address mechanical concerns, and place much-needed insulation behind the original clapboard siding of the uninsulated house. Crews addressed this last task expediently and economically by removing random planks on the exterior, blowing in insulation, and then methodically replacing the boards.

During that phase of work, they also completed a few more budget-minded repairs. In the kitchen, Javore tore out 1970s cabinets installed by the previous owners and replaced them with wood cabinets discarded from a nearby project. He salvaged appliances from the historic foursquare he and his wife were selling four blocks away and used them to complete the kitchen.

The Javores also saved money by delegating responsibility for hardware restoration to Barbara's father, Edward Burczak, a retired firefighter and skilled carpenter who completed the work as a gift for his family. Every brass doorknob, hinge, and mortise lock set in the house had either turned solid black from oxidation or had been slathered with paint, so Burczak stripped and cleaned each one. Then he rewired, cleaned, and reinstalled all of the home's original lighting fixtures—including sconces with sterling silver back plates and a chandelier with 208 cut crystals. "He put new hooks on every single one of those prisms," boasts Javore.

At about the same time the chandeliers were fully restored, the Javores sent work crews home. Then they reassessed their progress. "We simply ran out of money," Javore says.

The hiatus lasted until 1994, when the Javores learned that the porch of their former residence was about to be demolished. It was a landmarked 1902 house, and new owners were transporting it to a different location, but the back porch wouldn't fit on the smaller lot. Happily, it fit the Queen Anne perfectly. "The apertures for windows and doors aligned with the back of the house to a T, and it was just tall enough to slide in under a second-story back bay window," marvels Javore. 

While they didn't have to pay for the porch, hiring a flatbed truck to move it four blocks, building a new foundation, and completing finish carpentry ate into the funds earmarked for the next round of renovations. The modest addition ended up costing them approximately $20,000. Still, Javore says it was worth it: "We saved part of a historic structure without compromising our own house."

 In 2001, the Javores initiated the final phase of their restoration project. This time, "we left no stone unturned," he says. In the basement, they installed interior drain tiles, a sump pump, and a level, four-inch-thick concrete floor. On all four stories of the house they rewired and enhanced the electrical service. Outside, four roofs that had been piled atop the original wood shakes, in violation of code, were removed, and asphalt shingles with a weathered finish were hammered into place. Javore says they "respect the spirit of the original roof" because they have "the same hue, texture, and durability of high-quality wood. But they are much more economical." As part of the roofing project, crews also removed historically inappropriate box gutters, probably installed in the 1940s, and added half-round gutters like those still intact on portions of the exterior.

As a finishing touch, they painted the house a lighter, creamier yellow to match its original hue, which Javore discovered in 1994 when scraping layers of paint off the back wall to install the porch. "I saved the flakes and matched the color exactly," he says.

In 2007, Javore submitted an application to list the restored Calhoun house on the National Register of Historic Places. He received an acceptance notification in June 2010. Despite the lengthy process and expense, "we'd do it all again in a heartbeat … Yes, the five years we planned stretched to 12 and our costs were many times more than the $2,500 my grandfather spent initially to build the house. That sum was gone in about the first 15 minutes," he says, "but the results speak for themselves."   

In the years since he bought his grandmother's house, Javore has served on Glencoe's historic preservation, zoning, and planning commissions and chaired a task force to create the suburb's Contextual Design Review Commission. In 1990, he recalls, "Glencoe had about 3,200 structures, and 330 of them were considered architecturally significant. Since then, we've lost at least 80 of those, and a couple hundred more of note have been torn down to make way for new homes. Eight have been demolished on this block alone in the past 20 years, so we're relieved we were able to save ours."   

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