The world is full of maestros and their muses, but one Chicago couple puts a new spin on the time-honored pairing by taking turns at both roles: they inspire and aid each other in a continuous loop.
Eve Fineman is a freelance interior architect and associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Art, the Chicago location of the national Art Institutes chain. In her off-hours, she's been working with her husband, Alex Dunham, to rehab the 1920s brick bungalow they bought in 2000 and share with their two-and-a-half-year-old son, Eero, in Mayfair on the far northwest side.
The couple came to Chicago from D.C., where Dunham fronted the posthardcore bands Hoover and Regulator Watts. But he's put his music making on hold since Eero was born, and these days he runs Comet Renovation, a licensed general contracting service whose shop is in the bungalow's basement.
They approach each project from very different perspectives. "She comes from the creative role of dreaming things up. I come from the practical side of the process—making it," says Dunham with a laugh. Yet the theme of the rehab's been collaboration, not conflict. "We [work together] on every aspect," explains Dunham, "from how something will work in a room to its aesthetics and materials."
Snagging a solid, classic Chicago bungalow was a dream come true for Fineman and Dunham. "We always wanted one because they have enough detail to be interesting, but not so much that they can't be modernized to suit our aesthetic," says Fineman. Even the house's run-down, outdated condition was a kind of blessing, since "we wanted something that hadn't been tampered with."
They got to work on the place mere days after the sale went through, despite having no budget. Anxious to hit the ground running, Fineman says she used the ten weeks before the closing to "draw up plans and pick out the fixtures, appliances, materials, stains, and paints. We did everything ourselves, and enlisted friends to help."
Fineman was employed at an architecture firm at the time, but Dunham was able to devote himself to the project day and night, sleeping in the front room of the house while Fineman stayed at their old apartment. In the first month they stripped, stained, and finished the wood floors; reworked the floor plan, adding closets to the foyer and bedroom; pulled out the ersatz Colonial corner hutches; gutted and redid the bathroom; rewired the entire house (which meant pulling out yards and yards of cloth-bound cable); and patched and painted walls.
The second month they attacked the kitchen, ripping out faux wood paneling and vinyl sheet flooring, rebuilding walls and floors, and installing new wood cabinets, glass tile backsplashes, and resin countertops. Ironically, notes Dunham, who does a lot of custom cabinetry, "it was more cost-effective to use store-bought cabinets instead of making them myself. But I installed them."
Next, they went to town on the basement, whitewashing the walls and putting in a dust collection system for Dunham's shop. A nook was set aside to become a guest room when resources allowed.
In 2004 Dunham and Fineman built out the attic, adding dormers to increase square footage, then dividing the expanse into a bedroom and bathroom, a small study, and a nursery for Eero (who will eventually move downstairs to the former master bedroom, freeing up space for a walk-in closet). The couple's especially proud of the spa-quality bathroom with its mosaic tile walls, polished concrete floor, deep soaking tub, glass-enclosed shower, and walnut vanity topped with an apron sink and finished in high-gloss white. Dunham built the vanity and installed everything in the room.
Now they're finally getting to the next level: built-in and freestanding furnishings that Fineman designs and Dunham constructs—with a lot of back and forth, of course.
The old dining room is presently morphing into a sleek, state-of-the-art media room that will be sheathed in yet more walnut built-ins. Eero got an inventive Baltic birch plywood bed that integrates shelves at its foot. (His Uglydoll got a matching platform bed.) And the nook in the basement was just fitted with an inset bed and chest (also of Baltic birch plywood), to become compact guest quarters with the panache of a cabin cruiser stateroom.
Fineman likes collaborating with Dunham so much that she's decided to stop doing client-based design. Instead, the two plan to start their own line and market it while Fineman continues to teach. Her husband, she says, "just took some classes from a professor at my school so he could learn how to communicate in the design process better."v