On a rainy night a few weeks ago, Sara Korbecki and her husband Nathaniel Krempel welcomed me and our LoganSquarist photographer, Juan Montano, into their home. The couple bought the house in March 2013 and have been in the process of renovating the historic spot since then.
Upon moving to Logan Square in 2007, Korbecki and Krempel fell more in love with the “community of the neighborhood” and its affordable, dog-friendly apartments
“We bought it with the anticipation of it being a fixer-upper,” Korbecki said. “It needed modernizing, little by little.”
They first started clearing out the outside of the interior that had become overgrown as the previous tenants used the house for the storage of dirt bikes.
“We wanted to start with a blank slate,” Korbecki added as she described the legwork she and her husband put into cleaning up their backyard and garage to start their own chapter here.
The couple explained that their home had not been structurally renovated since the 50s when the previous owners originally moved in. “When I was five months pregnant, we decided a dishwasher would make our lives with a baby so much better,” Korbecki said, noting the urgency to complete the demo before her due date.
Unfortunately, the original kitchen cabinets were not standard size and all of the cabinetry required renovation in order to fit a dishwasher. But that wasn’t all that needed updating in the kitchen.
Behind the classic 50s yellow tile floor to ceiling, Krempel discovered cement with a layer of chicken wire behind it. As he detailed, he had to take a sledge hammer to the wall in order to start from scratch.
“It’s never quite finished in our eyes, but it’s pretty nearly there.”Sara Korbecki, in reference to the remodel of the kitchen
Along with the cabinetry, the flooring was due for an update, which Krempel completed with the help of his father while Korbecki was eight months pregnant. “My husband is a lot more handy than I am,”Korbecki remarked, as she showed us the dark wood flooring and butcher block counter top that he made by hand.
After their son was born, the couple continued with the remodeling process, taking full advantage of their son being a heavy sleeper. Along with updating the underlying structure, installing heating and air conditioning, as well as tearing down the basement to make it more “livable,” Krempel somehow found time to renovate the Four Seasons Room attached to the kitchen.
Photos: Nathaniel Krempel
In order to level the dipped down addition, Krempel and his familial helping hands created piece topography to raise it all up to the same level as the floor.
Krempel described that his father provided him with a foundation of knowledge about how to renovate homes using his own two hands.
“As a kid, I would help him with a lot of the simpler stuff, like drywalling, demoing, woodworking in the garage,” he described, stunning me with what was considered to be “simple” in his eyes.
Krempel’s face lit up as he proudly illustrated the ways he utilized the teachings of his father to renovate his home for his own family. He expressed feeling most connected to the kitchen space in their home due to that being where he “put most of [his] efforts with the house,” and it’s where the family congregates.
“We feel so much pride of how much energy and collaboration was put into it—we have such a great support system,” Korbecki said. The kitchen has become a representation of the family as well as a central part of the functioning of the home life.
The Home’s History
Krempel said that they found records stating that the house was likely built between 1884 and 1888 in the workman’s cottage style since it was affordable to build that way. “This style usually included two bedrooms with a full basement and an attic,” he explained, demonstrating the amount of research he completed to better understand his home’s origins.
This task proved more difficult than the couple anticipated due to complicated record-keeping systems and census data from over a century ago. The most recent census was from the 40s since the information is published so infrequently, but from this, Krempel and Korbecki were able to contact a member of the family who grew up in the home.
“He told us that the home was last renovated in the 50s by their father, who was a tile layer,” Krempel said, noting how much he has always “geeked out” about the history of homes along Logan Boulevard.
Photos: Nathaniel Krempel
While the couple made many significant updates to the home, it was important to both of them to honor the history of such a long-standing Logan Square home. In the process of tearing down walls and cleaning out the old remnants of the previous tenants, the couple discovered relics from many prior generations such as aged bottles from many decades ago in the basement and old toys in the backyard.
“We’ve discovered little things that give you a sense of the history of all the families that have lived here and called it home,” Krempel said. This made him want to document his own family history in the home.
The Mixture of Old + New
Photos: Juan Montano
Part of the appeal of this apartment to the couple was the history of the space that they could mold to fit their own personalities and lifestyle. They explored the attic and basement for found artifacts to be repurposed in their own updated version of the home. For instance, the couple found a stained glass window in their attic and gave it a new home as a focal point on their living room wall.
From their research, the couple also discovered popular styles from previous time periods to add elements of historical decor. Many of the doorknobs they added to doors in the apartment are a product of the Egyptian style which was popular in the 1800s. The refurbishing of furniture and components of interior design make this home a unique melding of past and present.
Photos: Juan Montano
In order to make the historical feel fit with their modern family life, Krempel incorporated lighting that mixed the two. After finding one intricate wire light fixture, he used his creativity to fashion a matching fixture to function as reading lamps beside the couple’s bed.
He also created a lighting trio to sit above the dining table in the Four Season’s Room, which has a dual functionality as a piece of art. The styling was meant to fit alongside more historic pieces and vibes, while bringing a more model twist to the room.
Putting Down Roots Together
The home is not the only life to have a longstanding history here: the couple has roots in Logan Square dating back to the 30s.
“My husband’s grandmother came to Chicago from Italy and lived in the neighborhood,” Korbecki said. Their shared love of integrating history, both architectural and familial, with their own family can be felt inside the homes and from their characters.
Korbecki and Krempel expressed a love for the community of the neighborhood which exists as a warm subset of a much larger city. The couple sought to incorporate the history of Logan Square into their artwork through capturing photos of the Bloomingdale Trail.
“We wanted to preserve a part of this history,” Krempel
As they continue to work on renovating the home little by little, the couple continues to put deeper roots into the ground. “We bought [the house] with the intention of staying put after moving around [so frequently],” Krempel said. “This small house has just the right space for us—we could see ourselves growing old here.”
With joy, the couple shared how much they love “being home and the idea of being grounded somewhere,” emulated in the creation of their home as a “sanctuary.”
Featured photo: Juan Montano