Interiorssneak peeks

Garrett’s New Home: Backstory & Bye, Bye Cherry Floors

by Garrett Fleming

Garrett's New Home: Backstory & Bye, Bye Cherry Floors, Design*Sponge In the summer of 2017, my boyfriend and I fell in love with a condo in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago, IL. The space had it all: it was walking distance to the beach, very close to the city but out of the fray and boasted many unique attributes. We eagerly set up an appointment to view it, but by the time we called there were already multiple offers on the table. In the end, the home sold for much more than the sticker price.

Fast forward to last November when the two of us started poking around at real estate again. We weren’t in a hurry, but our rental’s drawbacks were finally proving to be too bothersome. Firstly, we had two broken windows that our landlords hadn’t fixed in four months. It sounds minor, but broken windows and chilly Chicago don’t mix well. Plus, our building hadn’t had gas for three months. There we were, paying out the wazoo for an apartment so broken we could only cook on a hot plate.

In an unbelievable twist, the mirror unit of the condo we had fallen in love with a year prior hit the market just as we began looking at places again. Originally it was out of our price range, but since it was winter in one of America’s coldest city’s, the seller eventually dropped the asking price to a number right in our budget. We quickly wrote up an offer, attached an appeal letter and pounced.

Garrett's New Home: Backstory & Bye, Bye Cherry Floors, Design*Sponge

Image above: Never underestimate the power of an appeal letter. Ours helped us stand out amongst multiple offers and said, “Hi! Aaron and Garrett here, and we are buying our first home. Scary? Yes. Exciting? Double yes!! Admittedly, we are hard to please when it comes to potential spaces, but #10 is exactly what we’re looking for: architectural charm and room to spread out. We felt a rush of inspiration as we walked around too. You’ve made it truly one of a kind. Kudos! We may not be coming in the highest, but should you choose to move forward with our offer, we guarantee we will fill #10 with more love and fun than anyone else. We are just now getting back to normal after Garrett spent a year battling cancer, and a year and a half into remission, we are ready to dive head first into crafting a home where we can raise a puppy, a kiddo and live life to the fullest together. To give you an idea of all the potential we saw on our walk through, the next page features a mood board of what we imagine for the space. We can already hear lil puppy paws on that downstairs hallway. Thank you for considering us.”

Our new home sits in a building from the 1970s, and for decades the Transit Authority managed the electricity for Chicago’s subway system from within its walls. Luckily, during the 2008 renovation that turned the space into a collection of condos, the management company kept many of its industrial attributes. There is blonde brick on most of our walls, and if you look up in our kitchen you’ll see a truly striking feature: a giant metal crane used to move heavy machinery. (Side note: When the building was purchased in the early 2000s, one of the original plans was to turn it into a gay club with a penthouse above it. Um… what?!)

Garrett's New Home: Backstory & Bye, Bye Cherry Floors, Design*Sponge

Image above: The large crane in our kitchen and metal ceiling.

Since moving in a month ago, my partner and I have done quite a bit of work on the space. Much to my chagrin, we are definitely in the stage of our rehab where we have to focus on the backdrop and getting the bones of the space right. I know this part of the process is important, so I’m trying to stay focused. Frankly, though, all I can think about are textiles, paint and furniture! Scroll down to see the start of what’s bound to be an extremely exciting, albeit challenging, project. Enjoy! —Garrett

Garrett's New Home: Backstory & Bye, Bye Cherry Floors, Design*Sponge

The second page of our appeal letter told the seller about what we imagined doing with the space and spoke to his love of remodeling: “#10’s storied past and architectural charms are what will inform its reinvention for 2018 and beyond. The ceiling (WE LOVE IT!) will inspire the home’s color story, setting the stage for other earth tones and hues naturally found in the realm of manufacturing. All in all, we’d love the privilege to tweak #10 here and there in order to put our own stamp on it, just as you did when you so meticulously updated the unit.”

Garrett's New Home: Backstory & Bye, Bye Cherry Floors, Design*Sponge

The 12.5-foot-tall Fiddle Fig is our pride and joy. It provides a “wow” moment and highlights the 20-foot ceilings in the lower, second living area. Our realtor is a really close friend. He bought it from the previous owner and surprised us with it.

Garrett's New Home: Backstory & Bye, Bye Cherry Floors, Design*Sponge

In this “before” shot, you can see where the flooring in the lower living area had been damaged by sunlight. Look close and you’ll even notice the outline of individual rug tassels.

Tip #1: Extreme sun damage to floors is considered a major flaw and should be noted as such during your inspection. Having your inspector call this out will work in your favor when it comes time to negotiate with the seller.

Garrett's New Home: Backstory & Bye, Bye Cherry Floors, Design*Sponge

Some would caption this shot “Another view of the damaged floor,” but my caption for this photo is “I absolutely love our railing.”

Garrett's New Home: Backstory & Bye, Bye Cherry Floors, Design*Sponge

We did extensive investigating into the best ways to make our home’s blonde brick look fresh, and all roads led to InForm Studio’s Sorrento House. To achieve a similar look, we had our floor guy try out multiple Birch stains on Cherry wood.

Garrett's New Home: Backstory & Bye, Bye Cherry Floors, Design*Sponge

To dull the floor’s red Cherry color, you have to add green on top of it and strip and strip until the stain and sealer – an element that further highlights the red – is gone. Unsatisfied with the Birch options, we turned our focus to darker stains. Here you see where we had our floor guy try an ebony stain and a graphite color – which we ended up choosing.


Tip #2: Have your contractor (or yourself!) apply stain samples to the floor of a closet. That way, if you go with a lighter stain and the darker samples don’t come out, the darker sample spots are in a less-noticeable area.

Garrett's New Home: Backstory & Bye, Bye Cherry Floors, Design*Sponge

Cherry was just too traditional for the space overall. The new graphite color blends so much better with the brick and our more modern aesthetic.

Garrett's New Home: Backstory & Bye, Bye Cherry Floors, Design*Sponge

We didn’t realize going in that staining stairs adds hundreds to your bottom line, so we had our flooring guys leave the risers and side panels Cherry. We are planning on stripping and painting the risers to match the railing and the side panels to match the wall.

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  • This was a joy to read. What a cool building – the dark stain you chose for the floor suits it perfectly. Congratulations on your new home!

  • Congratulations on your new home! Can’t wait to see the final product – what a beautiful place.

  • The newly stained floors look fabulous. In a past house I painted the stair stands to match the wall and I think it makes the staircase look bigger. What about tiling or painting the risers different colours? A friend bought end lots of tiles in a similar colour range—over a period of time—and it looks amazing and always gets comments. It’s such a wonderful journey making a home.

    • Hi Mary,

      We’ve thought about tiling or wallpapering the risers, but we haven’t been able to decide if it’s a fit yet. My boyfriend has a much more streamlined aesthetic than I do (I’m all for more is more!) and we are just now starting to figure out how to balance that. I

      I’ll keep you posted for sure.

      – Garrett

  • The Fiddle Leaf Fig is exquisite, what a gift!
    Congrats on your new home and most importantly, on Garrett’s remission!