On this month’s Beyond the Build, we spoke with Jed Weissbluth of Uncommon Residential about his recent renovation of a century-old Chicago home. Uncommon Residential takes on projects of all shapes and sizes—new builds, additions, and remodels in Chicago and the North suburbs, and they are dedicated to thoughtful design, durability, and longevity.

I love checking in on Uncommon Residential’s website for inspiration because the details always take my breath away. In this 1903 Old Irving Park, Chicago project, Jed shares a behind the scenes look at a stunning kitchen with a suite of Thermador appliances, custom hunter green cabinetry, and solid brass hardware. We’re so lucky to have Jed on the blog and are excited to share his top tips for tackling a new project.

1. Hi, Jed! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work?

Uncommon Residential designs and builds high-performance new homes and additions. It grew out of our experience renovating old homes in the Chicago area. Residential building has changed more in the last dozen years than the last 60, and we wanted to apply what we have learned. The cost of housing is among the largest expenses for a family, but current building costs are low even in relatively affluent neighborhoods. One thing we know about ourselves is that we thrive on challenges. We’re challenging ourselves to deliver well-designed homes that meet a high construction standard.

2. When starting a large renovation project, what do you do first? How do you ensure you and the client are on the same page?

We start by delivering an excellent adult beverage to our clients! It sends a message that we appreciate the opportunity, and we’re going to do our best to manage the ebb and flow of major construction. We spend a lengthy part of the pre-construction period in planning: revising the scope of work, reviewing architectural drawings, and diving into details like door hardware and storage of cooking utensils. We aren’t robotic about our work, and we try to bring creative solutions to the table early in our relationship. We would rather spend time planning to make sure we are on the same page than redoing work that disappointed our clients.

3. How would you describe the vision for this project in three words? How did you team accomplish the aesthetic or goal?

Functional. Well-designed. Consistent.

This project included an addition with a fully excavated basement for a new bedroom, bathroom, and laundry room below the new kitchen and mudroom. Each was purpose-built for the needs of this client and intended to enhance the livability of the home. Good architectural plans are the starting point, and we made some improvements such as finding additional storage under the stairs, adding acoustic insulation in the basement, and others.

There are some obvious and subtle areas where design and function meet, and we like to capitalize on those opportunities for our client’s benefit. Our client on this project had a refined style that we incorporated into the project, and it was important that we stayed true to her vision. For example, there are a hundred varieties of green available for the kitchen cabinets, and we brought the top five candidates into the kitchen when it was framed so that our client could review them in daylight and at night with the hardware and hard surface samples. Her final decision was completely consistent with her style.

4. What was the most exciting part of the 1903 Chicago project? What was the biggest setback or challenge?

The most exciting part of this project was making a substantive improvement to a century-old home that simultaneously honored its history and met our collective goal for a beautiful space. We started construction in October 2019 and enjoyed smooth sailing at first. We even had an unusually warm December.

As we were celebrating our good luck, COVID-19 struck. It was our first major project during a pandemic, and our jobs do not fit a work-from-home mandate. We informed our client that we did not know what was going to happen. It was the kind of brace-for-impact message nobody wants to send, ever. Suppliers were disoriented, tradesmen did not want to work in the same space together, and the city building department temporarily ground to a halt. Luckily, our clients were very understanding, and we had our materials on hand before the supply chains were severely disrupted. We know of some projects that were frozen or derailed in 2020, but we were fortunate to avoid those outcomes.

5. What are the biggest kitchen trends you are seeing right now? Were any incorporated into this project?

A diversity of materials, textures, and color is a growing trend we have seen recently, and this kitchen is a prime example: hunter green cabinetry, a white oak hood and floating shelves, and a mix of metals. Improved lighting, high-quality appliances, and smartly organized custom cabinetry are prominent features in our kitchens. The scullery is enjoying a revival in high-end kitchens, too.  People spend plenty of time in their kitchens, so it’s natural for them to make a significant investment in how they enjoy them.

6. What are your favorite elements in the kitchen of this home?

We’re keen on the depth and rich visuals of simple cabinetry profiles paired with other design elements. Ornate cabinetry often looks too precious and can easily overwhelm a kitchen. The backsplash in this kitchen is a luminous mosaic that seems to tie everything together, but it doesn’t steal the spotlight.  We try to practice our own advice: avoid cookie-cutter conformity.

7. Is there a design or remodel “rule” you love to break? Did you break any of these “rules” in this remodel?

Some so-called rules are inflexible or outdated if we consider how people live in their homes today.  Dark tones on kitchen cabinetry were once viewed as a design penalty, but the hunter green cabinetry in this kitchen works well. Mixing metals used to be forbidden, but we regularly ignore this rule with good results. The classic work triangle has evolved (or disappeared in some instances) as kitchens have grown in size and function. We’re not sure if it was an actual rule of kitchen design, but many kitchens are jammed packed with cabinetry floor to ceiling.  Upper cabinets have limited convenient access and should be edited out of the plans as necessary, as we did on the sink wall in this kitchen. We also favor storing dishes in drawers under the countertop in this kitchen. It’s easier to access the commonly used items and reduces the risk of overloading the walls with upper cabinetry. Thoughtful storage is preferable to more storage.

8. Anything else you would like to add about this beautiful build? Any fun stories or key learnings that happened behind the scenes?

One key to a successful build is working with terrific clients. They brought out the best in us.  Every project has inevitable challenges, and they were very patient during the pandemic. One item we uncovered when we demolished the back of the house was old framing with an original label affixed to it from the local wire and lath union. These workers from 1903 took great pride in their effort to build this beautiful home.  We like to think we honored them with our own contribution.

To view more of Jed’s incredible work, visit his Instagram here.