Laurie Parman envisioned the type of home she ultimately wanted. It would be a fixer-upper, much smaller than the 3,500-square-foot Algonquin home where she reared her five children. Yet it would be large enough to accommodate them and their families during holiday visits.
What she and her husband Greg found in 2012 was a hidden jewel in the quiet, winding village of Sleepy Hollow.
Laurie quickly recognized the '70s ranch had potential. It had "great bones," she says. The fact that it had too many walls, too many built-ins and a dated kitchen did not deter her at all.
To the contrary, the detractions excited Laurie -- who always loves a good project!
"Our goal was to buy something we could fix up," she says. "It's just who we are."
In buying the 1971 ranch, Laurie got more than what she asked for, as the home included 4,400 square feet of living space between its top and lower levels. Laurie, a language arts teacher in Community Unit District 300, and Greg, a residential painter and former swimming pool designer, have always enjoy spending evenings working on home projects. And this home -- with its wraparound deck, walkout patio, swimming pool, four bedrooms and 3½ baths -- was certain to afford them that luxury.
Such an undertaking usually involves a crowd of contractors and a pile of bills. But Laurie was determined to stay within her $10,000 budget.
It didn't take long for this former Home Ec teacher to sketch out the layout of her home on graph paper, room by room. She wrote down important measurements and areas that might be concerns. She and her husband then determined which walls they could open up, and which needed to stay in place. Then, they got to work.
It also helped that they own heavy-duty tools like table saws, a miter saw, a pneumatic nailer, power drills and sanders to help with their projects. They also enlisted family to help with demolition and to strip wallpaper.
And when Laurie decided to tackle the dated kitchen, she called in her "handyman," sister Kathy Huehl, to help. Outside pros, like plumbers and electricians, were only solicited to do the work the family could not do.
But what they could do, they did on a tight budget. Laurie made a game of it, often heading to the neighborhood Habitat for Humanity Northern Fox Valley/ReStore Elgin to "pan for gold," as she called her secondhand finds. And that gold came in many forms.
First, it was the huge farm table ($400) in the dining room, large enough to seat 14. Then, a kitchen's worth of white cabinetry, a Sub-Zero refrigerator and a granite countertop for the island (all for $2,400).
Other finds included cabinetry and shelves ($300) that the Parmans used to create a built-in bookshelf in the study, drapery made from drop cloths ($40 apiece) and carpet ends ($120) that Laurie later had bound and converted into area rugs.
During their renovation project, she trolled the aisles of the ReStore almost daily after work; regularly enough for the sales staff to learn her name.
The Parmans learned of the ReStore concept from longtime friend Art Pearce, who was Greg's college roommate. Pearce has been in management with Habitat for Humanity for more than 15 years in Michigan, Alabama and now Kingsport, Tennessee, where he is a ReStore executive director.
There are more than 800 Habitat ReStore locations in the U.S., including eight in the Chicago area. Habitat ReStores sell donated new and gently used building materials, furniture and household items needed for home improvement projects. Profits from these stores are used to support local Habitat for Humanity affiliates in their mission to provide decent and affordable housing.
"A lot of folks who know Habitat, know we have a thrift store with construction items, and they don't like to throw things away, or add to the landfill; they'd rather donate," Pearce says. "They get a tax write-off, and it's a win for everybody. People have the impression that it's for low-income families, but it's a place to find a great deal. Thrifty shoppers come here."
While the cabinetry and island countertop jump-started the Parmans' kitchen renovation, they still had melamine plastic covering the remaining 21 feet of counter space. Then one day while Greg was working, painting a home in St. Charles, he located granite countertops that were about to be pitched. He got them just in time -- free. Laurie found a company willing to cut and polish all of the stone (and throw in a free sink) for $400. The only caveat was that the homeowners had to do their own seam work.
Within three months of moving into their home, they had completely renovated the kitchen with repurposed cabinetry, countertops, new flooring, appliances and fixtures for about $5,400.
"You just have to keep visiting," Laurie says of her ReStore treasure-hunting strategy. Among her last ReStore finds were wooden blinds for the lower level. She paid hundreds of dollars for the first few pairs, but then found more at the ReStore for $5 apiece.
She still visits the ReStore, but not as often and not for herself. "I take pictures and help my friends," she says, smiling.
Now their home is a comfortable, modern lodge-like oasis -- the feel Laurie was after all along. And the couple just barely went over their set budget.
Guests would be hard-pressed to pick out the couple's bargain buys from their full-priced ones, as the entire house is accented with many pieces Laurie found at the ReStore and other secondhand shops. A guest bedroom, bathrooms, a children's play space and hallways all have unique, budget treasures nestled here and there.
It's enough to make Laurie gush. "I never thought I'd have a place like this. This is like 10 times the dream," she says. "And we had so much fun doing this."