Before & After Chicago Bungalow DIY Projects

An Entryway Renovation for Under $500

I honestly can’t believe it’s been this long, but a year ago this weekend we broke ground on our entryway renovation! The idea was pretty simple: tile the entryway (a very practical decision for Chicago and life, to be honest) and add some eye-catching wallpaper to create a small space with a big impact. An entryway is a great place to set the mood for the rest of your space, and I wanted ours to fit within the historical context of our bungalow but with an eclectic twist.

I’m not that big on letting the architecture of a space define my decor or furniture. I don’t think that living in a period home (whether it’s Craftsman, Victorian, or Mid-Century) means that I have to change my style to match it. With that being said, though, I’m not going to renovate a space and completely ignore its context and history.

The previous owners had installed 6″ square mauve tiles over the original hardwoods in the entryway, which we pulled up when we moved in and refinished the hardwoods in the main living rooms and both bedrooms. Because they were never properly installed, they were cracked and loose and they left behind huge screw holes in the hardwood (hardwood flooring is not an appropriate underlayment for tile, just FYI). It took me a couple of months to put together a design plan, so the project sat on hold until May 2017.

“…Couches come and go but tile is (hopefully) forever.”

For the design, I wanted tile that was period appropriate (a neutral element in my design) but not dated, and something fun and eclectic for the wallpaper. When I’m making permanent changes to a structure I always keep in mind: couches come and go but tile is (hopefully) forever.

Pulling inspiration from the tile entryway in the second bungalow (on Waveland Avenue) that we put an offer on, but ultimately lost, I started researching historic tile patterns and colors. During my research, I kept a couple of things in mind: neighborhood context and resell value.

Image via the MLS listing for 5655 W Waveland Avenue. It sold for $410K in March 2018, almost a year and a half after developers bought it and destroyed it.

Bungalows in our area typically sell for 190K-350K, depending on the amount of finished living space and the level of renovation needed. So even though I love marble tile, for example, we would never see a return on our investment in our current neighborhood. With that in mind, I chose classic and affordable black and white ceramic hexagon tiles with dark gray grout (practical and slightly more updated than white grout) in a bold, geometric tile pattern, the combination of which would hopefully appeal to prospective buyers and age better with the home.

“Beautiful, yes, but lighting my money on fire for 10 seconds of warmth was actually more practical for us than buying that wallpaper.”

My moodboard for the entryway project

The wallpaper was the same story. I found a beautiful, abstract and organic wallpaper on Home Polish (Calico’s Wabi Cloud) but it priced out at $1500. FOR A 4 FOOT BY 9 FOOT SECTION OF WALL. Beautiful, yes, but lighting my money on fire for 10 seconds of warmth was actually more practical for us than buying that wallpaper. I went back and forth for weeks before I found and purchased a pretty good compromise: Anthropologie Home had a swirly, organic gold-patterned double-roll of REMOVABLE wallpaper for $120 that would more than cover the space I needed it to (I’m still not sure what I’m going to do with the leftovers), so I snapped it up and it sat on a shelf in my office for a couple of months.

“Demo on the entryway floorboards began pretty much immediately after we hung up.”

Fast-forward to Memorial Day weekend, 2017: once we had all the materials sourced and purchased, we received a pretty devastating phone call: my husband’s father had stage four kidney cancer.

Demo on the entryway floorboards began pretty much immediately after we hung up. Our goal was to salvage as many of the floorboards as possible and re-purpose them into something else so we could always have a piece of the bungalow with us when it came time to move on. Fueled by anger and uncertainty, my husband actually made quick work of it and we only lost two floorboards.

With demo done, I laid two layers of 1/2″ cement board (glued and screwed) over the original sub floor and then hand-cut the hex tile pattern with a utility knife… which took FOREVER. This was my first time tiling literally anything at all, so I nervous about screwing up, wasting materials, and ending up with a huge mess at the end. Because of this, I took my time and made sure to dry-fit the tiles in the space before gluing down so that the pattern, placement, and size of the design was perfect before it was permanent. Cutting and dry-fitting took about two days but it was worth it! After gluing everything down, I made sure to give the glue its full cure time (if I remember correctly, it was 72 hours). The Friday after Memorial Day weekend, I grouted the tile and then sealed it.

If you can believe it, the worst part of this project was hanging the wallpaper. Another new thing for me and so much more infuriating than I ever anticipated. The first sheet went up with only a minor hitch, but the second one took HOURS. I never got the return to fully line up (the cost of cheap wallpaper, I’m assuming), even though I measured and measured and re-measured and swore a lot. It’s good enough but I still notice the seam every time I look at it.

The finishing touches to the project were re-installing quarter round trim around the baseboards, and around the wallpaper to give it a panel effect, making and installing shelves from the salvaged floorboards, and some really great art.

In the fall, I submitted the before and after pictures for the Driehaus Awards, put on every year by the Chicago Bungalow Association, and that December we won in the Small Projects category. I’m honestly still shocked about that, but it was amazing to receive validation for my design choices from such an authority on these historic homes. Our project even got a shout out from Curbed!

But perhaps the best validation I received on this project was from my father-in-law. He got to see the finished entryway when he came to Chicago in June 2017… and he loved it! One year later, and he’s still fighting, so I hope there will be many more projects we can share with him in the future.

Cost Breakdown:

Tile, unsanded grout, and mastic: $300 at the Tile Outlet

Trowel: $6

Cement board: $13 each (1 1/2 for the job), $26 total

Screws: $6

Tile Sealant: $16 at Lowe’s

Wallpaper: $120 (free shipping with in-store pick-up) from Anthropologie (no longer available).

Wallpaper paste: $12 on Amazon

Quarter round trim: $13 at Lowe’s

Total Cost: $499

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