This Newly Built Bungalow Has a Dreamy Antique General Store Counter Turned Kitchen Island

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Name: Sunny Amirpor, husband, Andy, and 4-year-old
Location: Arlington Heights, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago)
Type of home: A newly-built bungalow
Size: 2000 square feet
Years lived in: 1 year, owned

Tell us a little (or a lot) about your home and the people who live there: My husband and I moved to the Chicago area from Toronto about six years ago. My husband Andy, a mechanical engineer, was transferred to his company’s Chicago headquarters, and I decided to take advantage of the move and attend grad school. I now run workshops that help simplify healthy living to maximize productivity in all arenas of life. Drawn to the affordable home prices of the Chicagoland area (when compared to Toronto’s astronomical home prices), we set out to buy a small cottage in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

Chippy goodness kitchen island

We bought a ’50s fixer-upper and were excited about the small footprint in order to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, and to roll up our sleeves and do a lot of the renos ourselves. Unfortunately before we had a chance to start our renos, there was a massive flood in the house, and we had to switch gears and look to demolishing the existing house to build new. Sad to be demolishing a classic old home we loved, we set out to work with a deconstruction company that took apart the entire home so that we could donate anything that was still in good shape. We were determined to keep as much of the home out of a landfill as possible.

Historic district compliant facade

I have always been obsessed with architecture, interior design, and sustainability, and so I set out to find an architect and a builder that would be willing to work with my design ideas and our eco-friendly requirements. I had just returned from a trip to the Netherlands’ countryside and was inspired by the small footprints of the cottages there. Many of them were tiny but had high ceilings, with bright open inside spaces. I also loved the way they mix antique furnishings with newer pieces. “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is my interior decor motto, and the requirements I had for the new build were:

  • That the new build be a bungalow with a fairly small footprint. No McMansions for us. This ensured that we could keep our overall energy use low and more efficient.
  • The façade of the home had to look similar to the original white cottage that had stood there before, as I loved the original home, and our property is set in a designated historic neighborhood with other homes that look similar.
  • I felt that the inside of the home had to look very modern to fit with our aesthetic, with high vaulted ceilings, large black windows, and yet have details that gave slight nod to the ’50s.
  • A custom kitchen that utilized a reclaimed cabinet I had been storing for years, and wanted custom kitchen cabinets that went up all the way to the ceilings to minimize dust buildup.
  • Must repurpose a large, 10-foot, antique general store counter that I had cleaned up and reclaimed (and had been storing away in our garage for a few years) as our kitchen island.
  • I wanted the bathrooms to use mid-century cabinets to the age of the original home. I searched and sourced just the right cabinets for the two main floor bathrooms in the house to achieve that look.
  • Use locally sourced materials and trades and use as much second-hand materials as possible
  • Have an open concept floor plan
Antique shop counter repurposed into an kitchen island

The interior decor of the home was done completely by me, and I mostly buy preloved, classic furniture with clean modern lines. I love accessorizing with ornate antiques and brass chandeliers, and my number one requirement when buying second hand is that they be made of materials that do not give off toxic VOCs or give off any third-hand cigarette or cigar smoke. I was able to find an original, chrome, Milo Baughman for Design Institute of America dining table on FB Marketplace for fraction of what it would have originally cost. Our dining chairs are a combined set of two different sets of D-Scan chairs. All of our laundry, mudroom area, and main bedroom closet cabinets were all salvaged from other homes in the neighborhood.

Our pantry storage is made up of three separate vintage high school lockers from surrounding schools. I look to maximize our small space with smart DIYs and multifunctioning spaces. The back door feeds into the mudroom and laundry space, which flows right into the pantry space to make putting away groceries that much easier. Being organized and having a space for everything makes our small home feel spacious and clutter-free, even with a four-year-old in tow.

My husband and I love living in the Chicago area. We have met great people and made good friends here. We are Canadian expats, but both of us have backgrounds with strong cultures. (My family is from Iran, and my husband’s family is of Ukrainian descent). We have both made an effort to speak and learn our respective languages, and before COVID-19, we had traveled to 30 or so different countries and consider ourselves citizens of the world. We cook and eat a lot of different ethnic dishes, and needed a full working kitchen, even in a small home, to accommodate all of the cooking and eating we do here.

The art we collect is from all over the world and from different places we’ve travelled to. We bought the large painting in our hallway from The Hague on our last trip there, and the smaller painting on our floating shelves is by Ria Krishnan Fine Art, which reminds us of our road trips all over the USA before we had a baby. Our American daughter has a Canadiana themed bedroom, complete with a Birch tree, Hudson’s Bay Company blankets (including an old chair that I reupholstered with one), and art featuring a Mountie. Many of the chandeliers in our home are from antique shops in different places. Our dining room chandelier is an original ’60s Gaetano Schiolari chandelier from Italy. The ’70s globe chandelier in our daughter’s bedroom is from an antique shop in Quebec.

Describe your home’s style in 5 words or less: A modern new-build with collected soul and traditional details

What is your favorite room and why? My favorite room is our kitchen. Our kitchen really is the heart of the home, as we spend a lot of time cooking and preparing Persian food and dishes. I love that our kitchen was hand-built by the Country Workshop, which is run by an Amish cabinet-making family, local to Illinois. I loathe dust and had the cabinets made to go all the way up to the ceilings so that dust couldn’t gather in the space between the top of the cabinets and the ceiling. This was not an easy ask because our ceilings are 14-feet high and vaulted. Everyone we asked said that it couldn’t be done, but our Amish cabinet maker had no hesitation in creating triangular shaped cabinets that fit perfectly in the vaulted space.

The chippy, blue, shop cabinet-turned island fits perfectly within our space and gives us so much storage (23 large drawers, in fact). I love doing DIYs and spent many, many days bringing the old counter back to life by cleaning, sanding, and restoring parts of it. The counter is almost 80 years old, had been partially spray-painted silver, and had spent some considerable time stored in a barn.

What’s the last thing you bought (or found!) for your home? The last thing I bought for the home was our 100-year-old antique Persian Heriz rug from Saffron Bloom. I was looking for a Persian rug as a nod to my heritage, and also because hand-knotted rugs are more environmentally friendly (made of wool, with natural dyes, they don’t give off any unhealthy VOCs, and last for centuries)

Any advice for creating a home you love? If you are building new, demand to know the processes. Think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to mix old with new, high with low, and only introduce items that you love, are better for the environment, and better for your health.

This submission’s responses and photos were edited for length/size and clarity.