When Meredith Zimmermann and her family decided to relocate from downtown Chicago to the suburbs, the school psychologist and her husband hoped to find a cozy and comfortable starter home for their family-of-four with a unique layout and a lot of character. What they found was a perfect little 1950s bungalow just outside the city that the Zimmermanns renovated and outfitted with sophisticated minimalist meets farmhouse decor. From the light and bright kitchen nook to the charming (and huge!) loft master bedroom/nursery, you’ll love every inch of Meredith’s house.
Keep reading for the advice Meredith would give other first-time homebuyers, find out the funny house layout quirk the Zimmermans came across after they moved in, and learn how Meredith and her husband plan to transition their kids’ rooms as they grow older!
Name: Meredith Zimmermann, School Psychologist
Square Footage: 1,200
Rent or Own: Own
City/State: Mount Prospect, IL
Children: Elle, 2, and Sawyer, 10 months
What was your first job and how did you land it?
My first job as a school psychologist was in Skokie, IL at the junior high school I currently work in! I completed my internship in a high school setting where I actually met my husband. The next year, I began my first job covering a year-long maternity leave for another psychologist. The former employee decided to stay home with her children full-time, and I was immediately offered the position. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
You and your family moved not long ago from downtown Chicago to the suburbs — tell us about your decision to relocate!
We loved Lincoln Park in downtown Chicago — the community, restaurants, coffee shops, the walkability of everything. Moving was a difficult decision, but we knew we didn’t want to have small children in a third-floor walk-up (lugging an infant car seat up three stories seemed less than ideal). Our apartment was beautiful, but we didn’t own it, and we truly wanted to create something of our own as we started a family. We moved when I was eight weeks pregnant (do not recommend) in the middle of summer. Despite our hesitancy to leave the city, we fell in love with Mount Prospect fairly quickly. Our neighborhood is walkable to our village’s downtown area, the community puts on many fun events for adults and families, and we have met lifelong friends here. That being said, we still miss the city and our brick walk-up.
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Why did you decide to move to Mount Prospect specifically?
We started the moving process casually. We looked at other suburbs in the area. I grew up nearby in Barrington, IL so that naturally became our starting point. We needed something fairly close to the city but also within the suburbs so that our commutes were manageable. We looked at probably 10 to 15 houses before my mother-in-law let us know that a colleague of hers was selling her Mount Prospect bungalow. We set up a showing and truly it instantly felt right. We viewed it on one of those gorgeous mid-May days where there isn’t a cloud or a hint of humidity. The house had so much potential, good bones, and was the right size at the right price point. We used a mortgage lender that a friend had recommended, and they, as well as our parents, walked us through the rest of the process.
What was something you wish you knew about buying a home before you closed on your house?
Oh, the back and forth. I had no idea how much negotiation it would take. Plus, having so many parties involved makes communication challenging (the seller, lawyers, real estate agents, lender, etc.). In addition, the closing date continued to fluctuate due to a radon issue and other inspection concerns (before the inspection I had never heard the word radon in my life). We needed to provide our landlord clarity on when we would be moving, but even we weren’t certain at times. That period felt especially stressful — attempting to be transparent but also not having all the information at hand as needed. There were so many things we learned throughout the process.
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How did you know this house was “the one”?
We knew we wanted a house with character. To me, that meant a layout that was unique, ornate details nodding to the era it was built, and solid bones. This house had all of those things. Despite being only 1,200 square feet, it had ample storage. It also had two full bathrooms. These amenities are very, very rare in a home built in the 1950s. The master is a converted attic with beautiful angled ceilings. The kitchen entry has an arch that makes me smile every day, it is truly these little details that only old homes can impart.
Did the home come with any quirks that impacted your aesthetic choices?
Yes, oh yes. We don’t have a dining room. We honestly did not even notice until living here for a few weeks. My husband and I turned to each other and we said, “How did we miss this?” We never had a true “dining room” in the city, that’s how. Our next house will have one.
The master too. When we moved in the walls (and ceiling) were a grey-green with stucco maple leaf prints stuck into them. Actual leaf prints. It would have cost a fortune to remove, and we didn’t have the time to do it ourselves. Instead, we decided to put up shiplap on every stuccoed wall, and we love it.
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How would you describe your style?
I would say it is farmhouse, airy meets modern. And comfortable! A house has to be cozy. We attempt to keep our home simple and only bring into it items that serve us and make us smile. It has been an on-going effort, but I have found the rooms that bring me the most joy are those filled with light, airy, comfortable and unique items that reflect our family and make our house a home.
Has having children changed your style at all?
Yes, it absolutely has. I used to put out ornate coffee table vignettes, candles all over the place, ample holiday decorations. With mobile children, it becomes clear fairly quickly that those style choices aren’t going to work, and that’s OK. I love that we’ve adjusted our style to set our children up for success in our home — where we once had coffee table decor now sit children’s books and a basket of small toys. Those items can be just as aesthetically pleasing, it just takes a bit more effort.
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How do you incorporate children’s furniture into your decor?
We have a nursery on the second level which is currently Elle’s room. We hope to have Sawyer transition into that room in the next few months. Currently, Sawyer sleeps on the east end of our master bedroom in a nursery nook, the space actually serves perfectly for this purpose. Most often I have found that thrifting decor and furniture has been the most successful! For example, Sawyer’s crib and Elle’s bedroom chair and dresser are all secondhand. When purchasing children’s furniture we’ve had the most success at stores such as Target, IKEA, Amazon, and Crate and Kids.
What were some of the first remodeling projects you took on when you moved in?
When we first moved in, we painted every room ourselves. It was a lot of work. OK, every room but one — the basement was a light grey/khaki that we both really liked. Every other room had a different primary color, and it made the house feel chaotic.
Another small tweak we made was to replace all of the knobs and hinges on the doors from silver to oil rubbed bronze. It made such an impact and an instant update to each room while being budget-friendly.
We also ripped up the composite deck so that we could install a wood deck in its place. The following summer, my husband and father created a new deck based on the previous deck’s footprint.
Then, last May, we completely gutted our main bathroom, added laminate wood floor to our master, and subway tile to our kitchen.
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What are projects would you like to tackle next?
Next, we hope to add a pergola to our back deck to add some shade, privacy, and a place to hang lights and flowers. We are currently working on finishing our master closet (which is quite large). Once that is complete, Elle will move into the guest room for her own “big girl” bedroom, and Sawyer to the second-floor nursery.
Where do you go for design inspiration? And how do you prioritize time to work on your house with a family and a full-time job?
Instagram and Pinterest have always aided me with inspiration. During our remodeling this past May, I saved photos on Instagram that jumped out at me — whether it be a faucet shape, floor tile, or grout color. I create Pinterest boards to categorize our renovation ideas and collect images that we might use to create a space that feels like “us” while respecting the character of our 70-year-old home.
Prioritizing time to work on the house has been one of our biggest challenges as homeowners, especially in the summer and fall months when we like to get outside and enjoy the time together. What has worked for us lately is picking a small project to tackle during the weeknight(s) and saving one bigger project for the weekend. If the project doesn’t get finished, we push it to the next week. For example, my project this week is to stain a part of the deck we just added that should only take me about an hour. My husband Joey’s project is to clean out the gutters in the back. Our weekend project is to finish installing the ceiling in our attic closet.
I’ll be honest, many weeks the projects just don’t get done (or completed). It can be frustrating, but we both work out of the home full-time and have two very small children, so we acknowledge that our time is limited and move on. It’s just the season we are currently in.
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What is your favorite room or design aspect of your house?
Elle’s nursery is my favorite room. Which is funny, because it is tiny, like teeny-tiny. But I love that about it — it’s a small, important room fit for a small, important person. I decorated it effortlessly. The pieces all seemed to just come together during pregnancy and the months after. There is nothing more fun than decorating a child’s room.
I also love our master bedroom, especially now that we were able to redo the flooring. It is light and airy, holds our youngest baby, and feels comfortable and calming. I love the neutral color palette, the shiplap (that we worked so hard on), and though the angles are a constant challenge, it adds character and interest.
Do you and your husband have a similar design style?
We do share a similar style. We both gravitate toward keeping our home simple, cozy, and practical. With two small children, this usually means sacrificing some items in the name of keeping them safe and lessening the headache of cleaning up after them more than necessary. Typically, my husband lets me take the reins on choosing items to bring into the home and appreciates my eye. When we completed our recent renovations, however, it was a team effort. We chose all of the materials together, but he ultimately let me make those final “tough” decisions, like choosing which grey grout (there are apparently a million different grey grouts, who knew) or selecting a design element, like adding the tile to the base of our tub.
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How do your kids inspire you, in your career or otherwise?
Working in a school with early childhood to middle school-aged children, I think of mine often. This perspective allows me to better empathize and support families. Especially as a mother who works full time out of the home. It also allows me to consider how I would want my own children supported educationally, both academically as well as social/emotionally, which is an outlook I use while supporting the students that I work with. The reverse is also true; my career has taught me many of the skills necessary to be a successful parent.
The area that I’ve found them to be most inspirational is helping me to live in the moment. They live every minute of their lives moment to moment, finding joy in simplicity, learning, and just being. They have simplified me and refined me, and I am a much better person for it.
What are some of your favorite activities to do with your family in Mount Prospect?
We love going for long walks around town, to get coffee, and to admire the architecture of the old homes in the area. We also attend “Fridays on the Green,” which is a free concert series that takes place in downtown Mount Prospect. We meet up with all of our neighborhood friends, eat, drink, and dance. This summer, we’ve started taking the kids to the park district pools and utilizing other amenities the park district has for young children. There are a few great restaurants downtown that have diverse beer lists and food that works for adults and children; we love to dine out a couple of times a month in the evenings and talk (and wrangle the kids). In the wintertime, we do the typical family activities — sledding, lighting a fire in our fire-pit and making s’mores, playing in the snow. With both children being 2 and under, a lot of our fun takes place in the home.
What has surprised you the most about motherhood?
How naturally it came to me. It is very common to hear how challenging it is, how much work, how tired you will be. And it is all of those things, but honestly, it felt so natural to me. You get used to the lack of sleep. Your schedule changes, and you can’t remember it any other way. Adding Sawyer threw us for a bit of a loop with an 18-month-old, but we worked through it, met the transition head-on, and just went with it. I think allowing yourself to have an attitude that is low on expectations and high on making the most of each day (and offering yourself a little grace) is key. I know I am doing my very best. I know my husband and I are a team, and we support one another during the more difficult times. And if I am having a long day, and I know my patience will not be where I’d like, I’ll ask for the support I need. All they need is YOU for you to show up, love them, encourage them, talk with them, play, and enjoy them. If you do those things you will have been the best mother you can be for your children.
Meredith Zimmermann is The Everymom…
Funniest thing your children did recently? Elle, my 2-year-old, has suddenly gotten very into the soundtrack from A Star is Born. She asks us to play “sha-hey-los” (aka “Shallows”) endlessly. She now sings along and dances and actually knows a decent amount of words and gets the melody right! If she finds anything around the house that slightly resembles a microphone, she puts it to her lips and starts singing. Most recently this was the end of a doorknob I was getting ready to install. It is adorable and hilarious.
Go-to order at a restaurant? I love a good burger with an egg on top and fries (always medium-rare). We miss the dining in Chicago tremendously! I also enjoy a veggie-loaded salad with some goat cheese. If we are talking brunch, always a skillet with lots of cheese and potatoes.
Favorite meal of the day? Breakfast. I love to go out to breakfast! Before we were married, my husband and I went to brunch most Saturdays AND Sundays in the city. Man, I miss those days.
Favorite morning ritual? Coffee. Is that a ritual? Actually, I’ll typically make two. I sip one while we get ready for the day and the next while I play with my kids (summer and breaks) and on the way to work during the school year. I am more of a get-up-and-rush-out-the-door person in the mornings, though I aspire to get up earlier, carve out a little time to set up my day, read, and sip coffee at a table. I recently started reading The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod and hope it will give me the motivation to start a true morning routine. Someday.
Most embarrassing mom fail? There are so many. The one that sticks out to me happened this last winter. I was having a rushed morning (as usual), and it was very icy out. I remember feeling tired and likely very late to work. I pulled Elle out of the car, but she refused to walk in the ice/snow, so I had to carry her around to Sawyer’s side and set her down. I, then, got him, and his infant car seat out but slipped on ice while doing so, causing me to hit Elle in the head with the giant car seat, and simultaneous as I slipped I hit just under my eyebrow on the corner of the open car door. It HURT. Elle was crying, Sawyer was crying, I was near tears. Of course, I had a black eye for a couple of days after to remind me of the fail too.