Home Sweet Home Comes and Goes

There’s no place like home—especially when you put a lot of effort into making a place perfect for your family. Not flawless, mind you, but just right for their needs. And that’s exactly what our family has done ever since we bought our home in 1990, a Lincoln Park house designed by Louis Sullivan in 1884. Given its age, you can be sure I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s been a labor of love.


We restored the façade and more on our 1884 Louis Sullivan home, which we bought in 1990. (Image: VHT)

But now that my kids are grown and have homes of their own, I’m moving. Many of you know this from the renovation blogs I’ve been writing about my next home, a vintage Gold Coast residence. That’s why I put my Louis Sullivan home, which we lovingly restored and then spent decades tweaking to perfection, on the market last week. And it’s why I’m writing this blog today; we’ve been stunned (and deeply honored) by the attention our home received. Once it hit Crain’s Chicago Business (thank you Dennis Rodkin!), Curbed, TheRealDeal, ABC Chicago and Architectural Digest picked it up as well.


Luckily, our home’s grand staircase was never “modernized” and is still in pristine condition. (Image: VHT)

We knew it was a treasure when we bought it, but it’s nice to know that so many others appreciate its beauty and historical significance (today it’s one of only five Louis Sullivan homes left standing in Chicago). But it was a mess when we found it in 1988, modernized by its previous owners when they bought it in the sixties. Gone were all the period architectural details—from moldings, medallions and fireplace mantels to the original front doors.


Our unusual bay is triangular rather than curved. The fireplace mantel is a reproduction of an original Sullivan designed in a nearby residence. (Image: Jessica Lagrange Interiors)

Even though the previous owners gutted the house, they also saved it. It had been converted into a nursing home (with the improbable name Breezy Acres on a single city lot!), and they could have easily tossed everything they removed. Instead, they gave many of the artifacts to preservationist Richard Nickel, and we found some of them in the Sullivan Museum in Edwardsville, Illinois. That’s how we were able to cast new ceiling escutcheons from the originals. Another bonus they left behind were the pocket doors—all there, just covered by plaster.


Note the ceiling escutcheon we cast from the original. (Image: VHT)

As a family of design professionals, we worked hard to restore everything else—from the missing front double-doors (Sullivan’s were always detailed with organic elements) and unique triangular bay to every inch of the brickwork and millwork. We had historically accurate new architectural elements custom-made by artisans. The front doors were copied from those on the nearby Ferdinand Kaufmann Store & Building Sullivan completed in 1885 and fireplace mantels were copied from the nearby Ann Halsted House that was designed and completed at the same time as our house.


One thing that was all-ours is the shade garden in the back yard. (Image: VHT)

When we finished, keeping the house safe from further interventions (and demolition!) was our top priority, so we donated the façade to Landmarks Illinois. Today it’s part of the Mid-North Historic District as well. My new home, a 1929 Gold Coast apartment by distinguished architect Phillip Maher, is also historic. But it doesn’t need heavy-duty restoration work, just a decorative makeover. Yet as I’m getting ready for the inevitable move, I can’t help but remember what someone said to us when we moved into our Louis Sullivan home: “May your home always be too small to hold all of your friends.” It was, and I hope my new home will be just as crowded as long as I’m there.


We’re definitely going to miss our little patch of paradise out back in an apartment. (Image: VHT)

01 Aug 2019

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