Often when I write about second homes, I’m writing about areas to consider. This time I’m dictating exactly which second home you must purchase. I’m doing this because it’s one thing to impress your friends by owning a second home, but it’s a complete mic drop to add that it’s a Frank Lloyd Wright prairie style home.
Known as the F.B. Henderson home, this property is situated on roughly one-half acre in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst at 301 S. Kenilworth Avenue. It was built in 1901 during Wright’s brief partnership with Henry Webster Tomlinson and is almost a mirror to Wright’s Hickox house in Kankakee, Illinois. I like this one better because it’s much closer to Chicago. The home has 5,500 square feet with six bedrooms and four bathrooms. It’s been on and off the market for a couple of years (with a rental period in the middle) and is currently listed with Marilyn Fisher with L.W. Realty for $1.1 million, though she’s quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying, “The price may come down.”
When you own a Frank Lloyd Wright, you care about what’s original to the home. Wright was a stickler for having everything just so. He often didn’t stop at designing the home, but insisted on decorating and furnishing it … often with his own, sometimes unique to the home, designs. These original pieces of furniture, often scattered to the winds with successive owners, fetch big bucks at auctions.
This home does not retain any original furnishings (I don’t know if Wright provided them), BUT it does retain over 80 linear feet of original stained glass for which Wright was famous. Had the home not been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2002, you might have sold the glass for a significant chunk (sacrilege).
As you can see from the floor plan, Wright enjoyed playing with spaces. He was a fan of narrow entry halls that exploded into larger rooms. The combination library, living and dining rooms form end-to-end, open-concept area for entertaining, but that is sectioned off so as not to feel like a bowling alley. Off the living area is a large terrace to enjoy the half-acre, treed grounds.
Upstairs has been slightly reconfigured to incorporate a master suite. The “lower” bedroom with its fireplace that connected to a bedroom-nursery is now the master suite. The nursery is now the bathroom while the connecting hallway has been turned into the closet. You might be wondering where the fourth bedroom went. It’s now incorporated into the full basement and includes its own bathroom. Speaking of bathrooms, yes, you are seeing right — there was originally only a single bathroom in a four-bedroom, 5,500-square-foot home. Ahhh, 1901.
As I said, Wright liked to guide visitors through tight areas to emphasize the grandness of larger ones. He was also big on privacy. In his original home in Oak Park, Illinois, his dining room faced an empty lot so he installed nearly floor-to-ceiling windows. When a gingerbread Victorian was built on the lot, Wright closed up the bottom portion of the windows so he didn’t have to look at it.
At the end of the entry corridor, this is the space that greeted you. From end to end, the home opened to welcome you. The large windows lead to the terrace facing the backyard. The large overhead beams were a necessary compromise for an architect who wanted wide-open spaces in a time before steel was used in residential construction.
Wright was also a fan of fireplaces. Without televisions, they were allowed to dominate a room. Often he created hearths flanked by bench seating. Here, we can see a much-loved, much-used fireplace, the type of which is seldom built today. You may also be able to pick out the bricks and see that Wright was a fan of long, thinner bricks, often referred to as Roman.
The dining room is a private-but-light-filled space mimicking his own home’s desire for privacy. When sitting at the table, guests could see out, but neighbors were at the wrong height to peek in and see diners. Wright likely went a step further with self-designed, overly high-backed chairs that created a room-within-a-room effect for diners.
You didn’t think you were getting off Scot-free, did you? The kitchen needs help. It’s a cinch that Wright’s 1901 design didn’t include wallpaper borders or tile mosaics behind the range. The issue with a renovation here is that in Wright’s day, this would have been a servant’s area, a far cry from the show kitchens of today. So while the space is very generous for a home of this vintage, it would not be luxurious. However with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation being a stone’s throw away in his original Oak Park home, help is readily available to do a sensitive renovation that incorporates the era along with today’s needs.
The upstairs master bedroom is a generous size with its own Wright fireplace. To the left of the fireplace is the entry to the closet and bathroom. In back of the photographer is a wall of windows similar to the dining room that provide light but privacy.
Above is a glimpse of a part of the walk-through closet off the master bedroom. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of the bathroom. Depending on what era the bathroom was converted from the nursery will depend on what kind of shape it’s in. Remember, in 1901, bathrooms were not the glamorous Roman orgy-sized spaces we expect today. They were modest in size, incorporating the space needed for basic functions.
The home retains the original terrace off the main living area. While the wood may need replacement, given its historic designation, a new owner is unlikely to be able to expand the footprint of the terrace. But given its size, who’d need more space? The second floor windows show the amount of light the twin back bedrooms enjoy.
This side view of the home shows Wright’s influence of long roof lines and eves hugging the ribbon of windows that encompass the first floor. At this end we see the entry corridor to the left merging with the library bump-out at the other end of the main living area. The stairs lead to the terrace.
While this home is out of my price range, I did grow up in a Frank Lloyd Wright area and had a friend who lived in one. They are amazingly designed homes that require caretaker-owners who understand their responsibility (like all historic homes). But there’s something about a Wright home that is always a wonder.
Most of us are in the same financial boat, but who doesn’t love a good fairy prairie story?
Remember: When I’m not stirring up trouble in Dallas, Texas or Honolulu, Hawaii for Candysdirt.com and SecondShelters.com, I’m off scouting interesting locations for a second home. In 2016 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors has recognized my writing with two Bronze (2016, 2017) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. If you’re a Realtor with second home clients who’d like me to feature their journey, shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org