before and afterInteriors

Before & After: Two Rustic Rentals in Chicago

by Garrett Fleming

Before & After: Two Rustic Rentals in Chicago, Design*Sponge

On Chicago’s southwest side lies Little Village, aka the “Mexico of the Midwest.” Deemed so for its burgeoning population of immigrants, the neighborhood boasts one of the most vibrant cultural voices in the city. The undeniably spirited vibe of the area is largely in thanks to its bustling thoroughfares and close-knit community. Hit one up, and you’ll find yourself strolling to a soundtrack authentically Mexican. The tinkling bells of push-cart vendors hit the high notes, and shoppers’ bellies hit the low as they rumble from the smell of freshly-made tortillas.

Two big fans of the neighborhood are husband-and-husband duo Dom and James of Kingsman Labs. They love this community so much, in fact, for the past four years they’ve been remodeling two rental properties in one of its vintage walk-ups. Dom even left his job in advertising to handle the renovation full-time. And it’s a good thing he did. Once he and James got into the nitty gritty of flipping the space, it was clear there was a lot of work to be done.

One of their biggest challenges proved to be the garden unit’s revitalization. Situated on the ground level, the lower of the two apartments had flooded before Dom and James took over. The damage was so extensive that nearly every aspect of the space had to be recharged; from the kitchen, to the walls, to the bathroom. With James handling these plumbing and electrical setbacks, Dom went about drywalling and tackling the aesthetics of each room. The most ingenious decorating move he made has to be the use of Teddy Roosevelt’s biography to wallpaper the bedroom. Over the course of two days, Dom meticulously adhered each page to the wall, creating a written mosaic for their houseguests to enjoy.

This one-of-a-kind design trick isn’t the only eye-catching renovation move the couple has made. As you’ll see, each space has been given a rustic overhaul complete with vintage finds, trendy paint tricks and warm textures. Click through to take a look at both units’ facelift then head over to the couple’s Airbnb page to book a few nights in either one. Enjoy! —Garrett

Photography by Dom Cordilla

Image above: Handmade end tables and pages from a biography decorate the garden unit’s walls.

Before & After: Two Rustic Rentals in Chicago, Design*Sponge
The garden unit's bedroom is wallpapered in pages from Teddy Roosevelt's autobiography. This accent inspired the two to call this unit "The Roosevelt Suite." The IKEA bed offers much-needed storage for guests.
Before & After: Two Rustic Rentals in Chicago, Design*Sponge
Before Dom and James came along, a flood had left the garden unit in total disrepair, and the previous owners left it in the above state. Nowadays -- thanks to the pair's handiwork -- it's been given a "boho (meets) lodge" style.
Before & After: Two Rustic Rentals in Chicago, Design*Sponge
Rich shiplap keeps the space dark and moody even on the sunniest of days and fits perfectly with the space's overall rustic vibe. Fearful this garden unit would flood again, the couple chose to install ceramic tile with a wood grain instead of actual wood flooring.
Before & After: Two Rustic Rentals in Chicago, Design*Sponge
The couple added the copper furnishings to a sink and cabinetry given to them by a friend. "We went with copper to mix up the metals we use and for its undeniable warmth and glow against the black-and-white tones of the room," the couple tells us. Wallpaper by Cole & Son.
Before & After: Two Rustic Rentals in Chicago, Design*Sponge
The rental's bathroom got the most modern update thanks to white subway tile and eye-catching artwork by Tyler Spanger.
Before & After: Two Rustic Rentals in Chicago, Design*Sponge
Underneath the first floor unit's dingy tile were wooden planks in pretty nice condition. All of the other original elements of the space had to get the boot, though. The new (more-modern) design is a combination of different ideas Dom and James couldn't quite fit into their previous properties. Behr "Mammoth Mountain" covers the walls.
Before & After: Two Rustic Rentals in Chicago, Design*Sponge
James (left) and Dom (right) split up different jobs when gutting and reimagining the property. James handled any woodwork, electrical and plumbing. Dom was in charge of installing tile, drywall and wallpaper.
Before & After: Two Rustic Rentals in Chicago, Design*Sponge
"We’ve always loved old apartments in old cities that have picture-frame trim and thought it would pair nicely with the original pressed-tin ceiling in the [first floor's] living room," Dom tells us. In order for their rental to sleep more Airbnb guests at once, James constructed this sleeper sofa.
Before & After: Two Rustic Rentals in Chicago, Design*Sponge
To give the first floor study/dining room "a touch of luxe," black-and-gold accessories were sprinkled throughout the space. Print by Joe-LynnDesign.
Before & After: Two Rustic Rentals in Chicago, Design*Sponge
Dom and James have long admired the trend of painting chair rails onto walls. Thankfully, this Chicago space finally gave them the opportunity to have one of their own, and they went with Behr "Secluded Woods." To add even more of a rustic touch to the room they stained the floors with a rich walnut hue.

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  • Such charming and warm spaces! I especially love the paint extending across the door in the dining room.

  • Me too! And, I adore the biography pages as wallpaper. What did they use to adhere the pages? Did they put a protective coating over them?

  • I love the rustic, repurposed furniture they have used. The bamboo chairs, the narrow wood plank coffee table and the lovely semi circular book shelf in the living room. There is a South American/ Portuguese influence at work. Wonderful use of textures and authentic materials. The white walls, just a tad too much white perhaps? Sheer white doesn’t photograph well so maybe it looks better in real life..Love the inspired use of a narrow space. But the most striking thing about the house is the eclectic kind of wooden furniture, looks well lived in and is simply gorgeous.I have found similar kind of handmade furniture with a Portuguese/ South American style influence at Kalalou, a little known producer from South America(Peru perhaps?). They have a big store in Jackson, Mississippi. You can find some of its collection on this online site, but to really immerse yourself, you should try to visit their store.

  • Robin and I connected via email but here’s some tips incase anyone else is curious about how we installed the pages:

    • I didn’t want just a wall of copy, so I mapped out in advance where images, table of contents, and blank pages would go
    • Halfway up the wall, I marked a center line so everything would stay level
    • I used Sure Grip Wall-covering Adhesive (Home Depot sells it and it cost about $30)
    • Apply the adhesive to the wall with a small foam roller, doing about three square feet at a time and then put up the pages
    • I only applied the adhesive to the wall, without using a protective cover
    • It’s been over a year and it’s holding up really well; nothing has pealed off
    • Overall, it was super easy and only took a day to put up