House Tour: Paola & John's Converted Switch House

Name: Paola and John Hoskins
Location: Waukegan, IL Historic District
Size: 8,100 sq. ft.
Years lived in: 6 months
Type: Converted 1920's AT&T Switch House

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I know Paola because she works at the Design Within Reach showroom closest to my home. We met years ago at an Apartment Therapy event and after a few conversations, I inquired about her place (I'm always on the hunt for good House Tours!). When I found out that she and her husband, John had recently bought a converted AT&T switch house, I flipped....Can we PLEASE photograph it for the site...?

Photos: Evan Thomas

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Happily, she agreed. The building was constructed in the 1920's and served as a switching station for AT&T. Talk about creative reuse! The formerly-far-from-residential space now reads as an amazing urban loft from the inside and a green-lawned stately brick residence from the outside - a mix that one doesn't often find in Waukegan (or many other places for that matter).

It is truly super sized - the main living space is 4000 square feet of completely open living, has a full-on pro kitchen and plenty of room for a basketball court in the basement!

With this much room to spare, its a good thing that a) Paola and John dig the minimalist look (which they pull off in a very livable way) and b) Paola works where she does. That said, it doesn't read as a showroom - the furnishings are a well balanced, well done eclectic mix - DWR meets vintage, with lots of interesting, cozy modernist groupings and colorful artwork to warm up the soaring white walled space.

This dual personality home, is an intersection between urban and suburban with it's loft like look in a single family home. It is a very interesting meeting between the worlds of work and home; a hard-working building enjoying its retirement as a residence for the couple.

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Paola's Survey:

Our Style: Clean, interesting, and minimal with random pops of color.

Inspiration: Inspiration should always be influenced by the history of the home.

Favorite Element(s): The fact that the size and style of our home is unexpected. We call it our “Metropolis”. It looks like a federal building from the exterior but the moment you walk in you are immediately taken back by the massive concrete columns that surround the 4,000 sqft of wide open space. We also love our kitchen-It’s any chef’s dream. It has a large Vulcan range (with a griddle), stainless steel/glass medical cabinets, subway tile, and again…one wide open space. It’s a sin that we don’t cook! But it’s great to have friends that do!

Oh, and I must not forget- my husband loves the fact that there is an original employee AT&T bathroom with a washbasin and URINAL…I must say…it scares me.

Biggest Challenge: The best part of the house is it’s own biggest challenge, it’s one BIG OPEN SPACE. Although, one would assume that part of the challenge would be to furnish the home...that’s the least of our worries (god bless minimalism!). There are greater challenges such as; when the time comes to start a family we are not sure how we are going to manage a “crying” infant. There are no doors, no walls, and absolutely-no privacy. But more importantly, the heating system has been our greatest cost & challenge. We had to install a wood burning fireplace to help with cost, since the home has a monstrous 30% efficient boiler system that mainly boils $$$.

What Friends Say: : It’s A “BOMB SHELTER!” And “you have a BASKETBALL COURT IN YOUR BASEMENT?”

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Biggest Embarrassment: Bathrooms. Those doors are locked until further notice due to HIDEOSITY.

Proudest DIY: I have yet to tackle a DYI project, but I’ve done my share of stacking wood and starting a fire on our incredible new wood burning fireplace. As for my husband, he claims he has become a “building engineer.” He has been fully in charge of DYI projects around the house (including keeping the “Boiler Room” under control). I hate to admit but I prefer HH (Hiring help).

Biggest Indulgence: Buying a building.

Best Advice: Drive as far out of the city as you can (preferably around the North shore area) and find the nearest Goodwill, Salvation Army, and/or local thrift store. You’ll find lot’s of used goodies! Don’t be afraid to get dirty-it’s an incredible treasure hunt! It’s not necessarily the hunt for a vintage Herman Miller or Mark Rothko painting but the act of searching for a one of a kind stylish piece…that you dig up on your own and apply into your space. Also, did you know Habitat for Humanity has retail locations in the suburbs that sell used cabinets, appliances, doors, and all kinds of architectural pieces? It’s like the vintage/”mildly used” version of the Home Depot.

Dream Source: My own job; Design Within Reach.
It’s one giant closet of furniture and unfortunately, it’s borderline dangerous!

Resources: Blend of random vintage & DWR

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Thanks, Paola and John!

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Janel Laban is the Executive Editor of Apartment Therapy and has been working here, at the dreamiest of dream jobs, since March 2006.