The front porch of Cinda Jo Berry’s home, which looks out on St. Mary’s Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. Credit: Joerg Metzner

The RoundTable’s Two-Minute House Walk column takes readers inside some of Evanston’s most distinctive dwellings. We aim to showcase the history, style, architecture and design of homes throughout the city, from grand lakefront residences to cozy coach houses, modern apartments and everything in between.

Evanston designer Cinda Jo Berry’s home is on Florence Avenue near Wilder Street, in the neighborhood often referred to as the West Evanston Arts District. A well-worn gem in the rough, she’s made it shine.

She bought the 1,300-square-foot cottage in 2010. Her son, a contractor, said it would be a money pit. Her friend Mary fell completely silent when she first saw it.

“Everyone was looking at it as a teardown except me,” Berry says.

But one of Berry’s best friends from school grew up in this neighborhood, and her friend Scott Seltzer’s parents owned nearby Purwin’s Cake Box at 1124 Florence Ave. And she saw the home’s potential.

Compact, bright and airy, the remodeled home, which was built in 1903, now has an an improved floor plan and packs in a lot of interesting details.

“The place is so teensy, you can’t add too much,” Berry says.

View of house from rear
Rear view of the Florence Avenue home after the remodeling. Credit: Ellen Galland

The extensive remodeling took more than six months and involved integrating some of the original features into the new design.

The house has benefitted from additional insulation and new energy efficient heating and air conditioning systems. Berry also added in-floor heating and intends to add solar panels to a future coach house.

The first floor and basement were expanded by less than 2 feet, with only 4 feet added to the second floor to accommodate a bathroom.  “I’m not here to add space,” Berry often tells her clients. “I’m here to do what I can with what you have.”

Living room

The foyer previously opened directly into the living room, interrupting a living room wall that now has built-ins and a TV. Berry closed the opening, so that the foyer became a small room of its own leading into the dining room.

Berry first saw the home’s new front door leaning against a wall at Evanston Lumber Co. It was priced at $200 and features a fleur-de-lis design etched in glass. The previous foyer window had colored glass that needed replacement. So Berry’s brother-in-law designed a new leaded glass window with fleur-de-lis as well.

Berry found two bureaus at a local Indonesian market. Her carpenter carefully installed the baseboard, countertop and shelving around them leaving depth for a shallow entry storage alcove in the foyer.

Early in the remodeling process, when a friend noted that she had never seen that color of wood flooring, Berry told her it was “just dirt and aging.” She kept the floors, leveling and reinforcing the support joists, and then sanded and finished the floor boards with an oil-based light stain and polyurethane.

Front stair

The striking stair railing design draws the eye with its angled Victorian turned wood balusters. Her son didn’t like it. Berry disagreed. “This is why I bought the house,” she says. “When I peeked in the front window, it caught my eye.” After the demolition stage of construction, it sat out in the rain until Berry convinced the builders to return it to its former location.


  • View from window of deck

The kitchen features a new skylight and new tall casement windows that open up the space to the deck and yard, making the kitchen look and feel larger.

An English pitch pine china cabinet (also known as a hutch) came with a door, but the hinges were on the wrong side, so Berry kept it open and added recessed Ikea strip lighting. (The cabinets are Ikea, too.)

The kitchen’s main countertops are hammered matte black granite, and Berry, who likes mixing materials, included a butcher block island. The addition of a pantry closet meant she did not need many cabinets.

Main bedroom and bathroom

The original side walls of the house were too low for Berry’s former bed frame. She found a new carved wood headboard, dresser and bedside table at Whippletree Antiques in Wauconda. The $425 set has the same 20th century “spoon” carvings as the rosettes on the door trim. Berry even found a newspaper dated June 6, 1944 (“D-Day”) under the linoleum of the main bedroom closet.

Basement guest suite

  • Image of basement bedroom bed, chair and bookshelf
  • Kitchen cabinets and table

By removing a deteriorated section of foundation wall, Berry was able to enlarge and improve the basement apartment’s entrance from a side yard. At first, she intended to live in the house alone.  But after meeting several neighbors whose homes had small apartments, she decided to adapt the basement into a rental apartment with a tiny kitchen that was formerly a laundry room.

No one thinks of it as a basement anymore, Berry says. One of her Airbnb guests suggested the lovely space really should be referred to as a “guest suite.”

Next, Berry hopes to design a coach house that can replace her garage. She wants to install solar panels on the roof, rent its second floor, and have a sculpture studio next to the garage downstairs.

Trained in Brazil, Ireland and New York City, Berry describes her design interests as eclectic. She asks her clients how they want to live and move through their homes, and she marries styles that are new and the old, rather than focusing on current trends. So far, it’s working.

Berry says no one has ever looked at her finished work and said, “Take it out.”

Ellen Galland has had an architectural practice in Evanston since 1983. For more than 20 years, she has written articles for the RoundTable, including the column “Ask An Architect" and "The Green Column"...

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  1. Beautiful and artistic renovation of an historic gem. So glad that it was lovingly restored and gently updated. Thanks for sharing your process, Cinda! We always need an extra guest spot for visiting relatives. We’ll watch for the listing in your delightful home!

  2. Cinda. What a beautiful
    Job you have done with such a lovely home it once was. I grew up in that neighborhood many years ago and remember it well. I even gave a walking tour to friends last year of what it used to be up and down Greenleaf st and Florence. Enjoy your new/old home for many years to come.

    1. Would love if you’d offer a walking tour to neighbors. Such a charming corner of Evanston that we love to stroll through from our Dempster St. home. The connection to Purwin’s was a happy occurrence. It brought back many happy visits by my grandmother who always came through to Evanston and brought us petit fors from Purwin’s!

  3. It’s interesting, but I just can’t fully understand the changes made without seeing before-and-after floor plans side by side on the same screen; also the plan which shows the location the photos were taken from and the direction of view. Maybe that’s just me. Also, in the descriptor “black mat granite” I’m pretty sure that the second word is “matte” which sounds the same but has the meaning intended.