Time to relive the garage parties of your youth. Chicagoans are remodeling outdoor spaces to socialize safely as winter approaches.

Katie Surma, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Lifestyles

CHICAGO — After spending months working from home in tight quarters with her two college-aged children, Katie Wrobel began to worry about how the three would make it through winter confined in the same living space.

That’s when Wrobel began to see potential in a neglected part of her Evanston property: a 100-year-old detached garage.

“I was inspired by the garage parties of my youth," said Wrobel, who’s in her 50s. “I had to do something because if they were home for extended periods of time during the winter and had no access to outdoor socializing … Well, then, it was going to be bad for everyone.”

Wrobel, a self-employed content creator who edits videos and marketing material, wants to use the updated space as a room where her family can safely socialize and work as colder weather limits options for spending time outdoors. The project will cost around $25,000, but it’s worth it, she said.

“In life, when you don’t have control over things — like with COVID — it’s really nice to be able to create something that gives you the agency you want and lights you up a bit,” Wrobel said.

Residential remodeling companies in the Chicago area are seeing a boom in business from people wanting to spruce up garages and other overlooked spaces during the health crisis.


The rush in business is welcomed by contractors who saw business come to a standstill earlier this year as customers were hesitant to invite workers into their homes amid uncertainty over the coronavirus.

In April, around 60% of residential contractors nationwide reported a steep drop-off in business, according to a National Association of Home Builders survey. By mid-October, more than half of the contractors surveyed said business had rebounded.

“The surprising effect is how quickly people found workarounds and how quickly everything bounced back,” said Paul Emrath, an economist at the association.

Emrath attributes the remodeling industry’s recovery, in part, to the fact that housing prices haven’t taken a hit, as they did during the 2008 financial crisis. Homeowners with equity in their properties can take a loan to finance new projects, he said.


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