With visions of dinner parties and game nights dancing in their heads, a Chicago couple renovated their historic (and first) home, one DIY project at a time.
couple sitting on couch with dogs
Four years and one pandemic later, Tim Brodeur (left), Jarod Sabatino, Crouton and Wally are ready to host guests in their revamped home.
| Credit: Kevin Miyazaki

Curbside takeout sounds like a restaurant option. But for Jarod Sabatino and Tim Brodeur, it means a new upgrade for their nearly 100-year-old house in Riverside outside Chicago. "Last Thursday, someone was throwing away a door that looked like ours," Jarod says. "We rode over on our bikes and took the doorknob off. Those beautiful old crystal doorknobs, we call them the jewelry of our house."

outside view of home in snow
"We've made this house so much better than what it was," Jarod says. "When you DIY, you live through hell, and then you forget about it. But it's totally worth it."
| Credit: Courtesy of Jarod Sabatino

For these avid DIYers—Jarod, who works in digital advertising technology, is the idea guy and Tim, a middle school principal, plans the execution—roadside scavenging is the least they'll do to capitalize on the period charm of their 1929 "vaguely Mediterranean" home. Since moving in four years ago, the couple has touched literally every surface. "It's an old house, and we're embracing old features," Jarod says, noting the creaky floors and heavily textured plaster walls. "But there are things to modernize."

shelves with Christmas decor
collection of framed artwork near stairs
Left: Among the holiday treasures in this niche, Jarod Sabatino especially loves the mustachioed German incense holders. (Purchased at Christkindlmarket Chicago and on Amazon, they hold cone incense, and the smoke comes out of their mouths.) | Credit: Courtesy of Jarod Sabatino
Right: The gallery wall showcases vintage paint-by-number seascapes, a collection that started with a single piece purchased while visiting Tim's grandfather in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. | Credit: Courtesy of Jarod Sabatino

In that spirit, they painted until their hands went numb, peeled back wall-to-wall carpet and metallic wallpaper, and chipped a shocking four layers of tile off the kitchen floor prior to a full remodel. Along the way, they also updated electrical and added air-conditioning and a smart thermostat. To make the home feel more open without losing divisions between rooms entirely, Jarod and Tim widened the doorway between the kitchen and dining room and added French doors. After giving up on a time-consuming restoration, Jarod painted them—and all the interior doors and window trim—black, but kept the original hardware. 

Christmas tree in corner near window
Pampas grass and dried hydrangea pump up the artificial tree. "It looked flat, so I just shoved them in there," Jarod says. A faux sheepskin rug from Costco luxuriously hides the stand.
| Credit: Courtesy of Jarod Sabatino

"Our whole goal was to make it beautiful and make people want to stay over," says Jarod, who describes their style with a gang of adjectives that makes it clear this house has character but not pretense: layered, natural, eclectic, laid-back, comfortable.

dining area with Christmas decor
couple standing in kitchen
Left: A standing joke after a dinner party is to ask, Downton Abbey-style, "Shall we go through?" before passing to the sunken living room for cocktails and games. | Credit: Courtesy of Jarod Sabatino
Right: Tim and Jarod filtered kitchen decisions through an endurance lens. For example, they chose white cabinets for their timeless quality and splurged on Carrara marble for the countertops and backsplash, anticipating how it would age. "Our house is old and has character," Jarod says. "The marble will do the same thing. If they've had it in every building in Italy for 1,000 years, why not do it here and grow to love the etchings?" Brass hardware and light fixtures, original wood floors, and a vintage rug take the chill out of the white. | Credit: Kevin Miyazaki

After two years, the first floor fit that description. It was March 2020. The couple was ready to welcome guests—and to tackle the upstairs. They headed to the store to grab supplies to make over the bathroom. In the car, they heard Chicago's lockdown notice. 

living room with Christmas decor
The sofa faces the fireplace in warm months, so the hinged windows can open. But the couple rearranges the furniture in winter to sneak in extra seating.
| Credit: Courtesy of Jarod Sabatino

"We thought, 'At least we have everything we need to work on this. It's something to do," Jarod remembers. Over the next few confusing homebound weeks, the meticulous and demanding tasks of the renovation became more than just a time-filler.

bedroom with dark blue walls
enjoying fire with dogs
Left: The guest room's steel canopy bed has traveled with Jarod from studio apartment to condo to this home. The couple bathed the walls in Benjamin Moore's popular Hale Navy, and found the inexpensive carpet-covered pillows on Etsy. | Credit: Courtesy of Jarod Sabatino
Right: Outdoor lighting falls on Tim, who has a growing C9 bulb collection. During the pandemic, he changed the palette monthly: multicolor in December, white in January, red in February, and the colors of the Irish flag in March. | Credit: Courtesy of Jarod Sabatino

"I remember tiling during the height of it," Jarod says. "I'd put on music and get lost in placing all these little tiles. It was weirdly stress-relieving."

bar with artwork
In the basement, a portrait of a high-society Milwaukee widow presides over a midcentury designer bar counter picked up locally through eBay. The painting gives the space its name: Esther's Place. Sherwin-Williams Urbane Bronze cloaks the walls, and luxury vinyl checkerboard floors evoke Jarod's grandmother's basement.
| Credit: Courtesy of Jarod Sabatino

They fell back on a DIY project again that winter, when plans to hunker down for New Year's Eve with a small group of friends got derailed by positive COVID-19 tests. This time, the pair took on the basement. Stuck at home under quarantine, they demoed the drop ceiling, ripped out unnecessary walls, took out the old flooring, then gradually rebuilt the space as a moody retro lounge.

putting on shoes in closet
dogs standing at wooden door
Left: You don't often see walk-in closets like this in historical homes—and neither did Jarod and Tim, at first. They built this one from scratch by stealing space from one end of their 25-foot-long bedroom. After pricing out custom options, they opted to DIY a solution with Ikea Pax cabinets, then coated them all in epoxy paint to ensure a smooth, nonchipping finish on particleboard shelves. | Credit: Kevin Miyazaki
Right: Jarod discovered original tile in the entry, but it was too damaged to restore. Rather than try to replicate a period look, he installed a more current black-and-white pattern. | Credit: Kevin Miyazaki

This year, they're hoping it sees more action as they reboot their holiday traditions with friends, including a Christmas brunch early in the season and small dinner parties throughout December. As Jarod says, their home's whole reason for being is "good food, good drinks, good company." And they'll go to any lengths to smooth the way for that.