The bedroom of the HGTV Urban Oasis condo features hand-painted… (Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune )
It was Monday, after work, and Deborah Robertson had chased her sister, Nellie, out onto the front porch of the house in Edmondson Village that they share.
"She smokes and I don't, so she has to go outside," said Robertson.
But soon enough, her sister was tapping on the window and motioning Robertson outside. There was a television crew coming down the street toward their house.
"I said, "Oh my, I think they are here for me,'" said Robertson. "She didn't believe me."
It was interior designer Vern Yip and a crew from HGTV's Urban Oasis contest, a sweepstakes that offers a dream home as the grand prize.
"When I saw Vern," she said, speaking of her favorite HGTV star as if he were a neighbor, "I knew they were there for me."
They had come to tell Robertson that she was indeed the winner of a lavishly designed and furnished one-bedroom condo on the 35th floor of the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago, a package worth an estimated $750,000.
"I am still in a daze," said Robertson, who reported to her job the next day at the Social Security Administration as scheduled. When word leaked of her good fortune, co-workers — even ones she doesn't know — flooded her email box with congratulations.
"This is just something that doesn't really happen to people you know."
Robertson, 57, moved from her childhood home in her 20s but returned to it when her mother became ill. She inherited the Baltimore rowhouse two years ago. She's never been to Chicago, where she will go early next month for her first look at her prize.
The apartment has floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of the Chicago skyline. It has one bedroom, a bath and a half, a gourmet kitchen and access to a spa, fitness center, indoor pool, restaurants and a 24-hour concierge.
She entered the contest twice a day — the maximum — every day for the length of the three-month campaign, which began in August. She was among nearly 14 million entrants.
"I loved the layout of the condo," she said. "And Vern is just a great decorator. I loved exactly what he did to the place.
"The view is gorgeous," said Robertson, who has seen pictures. "I love the kitchen. It is something I have always dreamed of, to have a kitchen like that. And the living room and the bedroom."
She says she is a fan of HGTV because "they show you how to do so much on your own. You don't have to get someone to repair things. And you can build things yourself."
Right now, she is working on a renovation of the kitchen in her mother's home, refinishing cabinets and putting in a tile back splash.
Will she move to Chicago, far away from her daughter and two granddaughters in Columbia?
"Honestly, I don't know right now," she said. Robertson is eligible to retire, having already done so from her job in the state's events and conference services office. She has worked as a staff assistant to the chief actuary at Social Security since 2004.
A check of Chicago real estate listings shows that an unfurnished apartment in that building sells for at least $550,000, with association fees of at least $500 a month. There are tax implications, of course, and Robertson has retained a lawyer.
She said she will take her daughter, sister and brother to Chicago for the award ceremony in early November. HGTV will air a show featuring Robertson on Dec. 29 at 8 p.m.
"I am still undecided about what to do," she said. "I am talking with my daughter and the rest of my family, but I am still kind of undecided. Everybody is just so happy about it. It is such a blessing."