The Zook Look


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Today I had the opportunity to visit a true treasure house. This one was designed in 1932 by Harold Zook, a Chicago architect responsible for numerous distinctive homes. Zook, whose vividly detailed homes were built from the 1920s through the 1940s, was considered the Frank Lloyd Wright of Hinsdale, Illinois.  Zook’s homes featured a host of distinctive elements, including his trademark spiderweb motif.  This enchanting home features the spiderweb not only in Zook’s original design, but in other details added by the current owners.  Kudos to these people for their painstaking upkeep and contextually perfect updates to this little castle.

Let’s take a tour.  As you walk up the driveway, you encounter a gateway guarded by a stone lion.

From the driveway, the entry gate.

Moving along, we see some of the most charming details of the home.

The window above the garage features shutters embellished with cut-out squirrels. There’s a fairy-princess tower in the background.

Before entering the home, we see a gazebo with a slate roof.

Note the chevrons, another Zook hallmark, in the gazebo’s framework.

Part of the exterior, featuring a sweet Juliet balcony.

Note the slate roof, stone tower and Juliet balcony.

At the base of the stone tower, the owners combined functionality with whimsy with this spiderweb-motif window grate.

Window Grate

The signature spiderweb, worked into a window:

The Web Window, exterior view

Here is the window from an interior perspective.

Web Window, from inside.

Upon entering the house, you are greeted by a spellbinding spiral staircase, which takes you from the basement to the top of the tower.  Here is a view of the staircase, and please excuse my clumsy finger.

Staircase, looking up from basement

The kitchen has been updated, yet the spiderweb lives on, in one of the cabinet doors as well as the screen door.  Talk about a cohesive look!

The Zook-inspired kitchen

For more information about this house, see this 1985 Chicago Tribune story.

Estate Sales: The Dark Side of Decorating


I confess:  I am an habitué of estate sales.  A good friend of mine and I haunt them regularly. We attended one this weekend, and I believe we stepped into the Black Hole of Home Decor.  Let me preface: Whenever I go to an estate sale, I can’t help but wonder about the home and the people who live or lived in it. Were they relocating? Was the sale the outcome of a foreclosure or bankruptcy?  I always feel uneasy upon entering one of these houses, as though I am treading on someone’s hallowed ground that is now reduced to piles of clothing and trinkets on a dusty floor.

Having said this, I was just plain scared at this sale.  I couldn’t help but whip out my camera to capture some of the decor elements.  Have you ever seen a teenage boy’s bedroom door adorned with a hand-painted Playboy logo?


Now, you have. Enter the chamber of desire, if you dare.

This house has been sold to a new owner. The place actually has a nice-looking exterior, and is situated on a large lot in a beautiful neighborhood.  The new occupants have a world of work ahead of them, but I wish them well.  And I truly hope that better, happier days lie ahead for the previous owners.

Don Draper’s Treasure (Apartment)


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He spent his young-married years in a frumpy old house in Cheever Country. He did time as a divorced dad in an existential-nightmare flophouse in the Village.  Now, Don Draper finally has a home that speaks to his success. And to the tastes of his new trophy wife, Megan. In watching Mad Men and viewing the photos of this Deluxe Apartment in the Sky (cue the theme song of The Jeffersons), one can’t help but be reminded of the Fabulous New York Apartment sets of memorable 1950s and 1960s films.  Think of Doris Day’s career girl apartment in Pillow Talk.  Frank Sinatra’s bachelor pad in The Tender Trap. Conjure up Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable sunning themselves on the terrace in How to Marry a Millionaire Recall Uncle Bill’s posh space in Family Affair.

The Sunken Living Room/Conversation Pit!  The white carpet!  The hanging lamp!  If Darrin Stevens had a pied-a-terre, this would be it.


Look at the kitchen in the Drapers’ apartment, and one expects Alice from The Brady Bunch to saunter into the sea of orange plywood, Harvest Gold and Formica.


According to Mad Men production designer Dan Bishop, the apartment is supposed to evoke a unit in a high floor on one of those ubiquitous glazed white brick high-rises designed by Sylvan and Robert Bien. Incidentally, Robert Bien, in a 2000 New York Times interview, defended his use of the building material, as well as the simple functionality of the boxy apartments.  Does Draper’s building look like this?


Will Don and Megan live happily ever after?

Will I go back to focusing on Chicago Treasure Houses?  Yes, and thank you, dear reader, for indulging me in my homage to my favorite TV show.

Sullivan and Elmslie Want You


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to restore their extraordinary home in Riverside, Illinois. Louis Sullivan, known primarily as the mentor of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed masterful buildings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  He teamed up with George Grant Elmslie  in 1907 to design a 28-acre estate in Riverside for Henry Babson.  See photos of the estate, its furnishings and landscaping here, courtesy of

Although the main house on the Babson property has long since been demolished, some of the estate’s service buildings remain, including this one, which was converted to a private home.  The residence is currently for sale for $599,000.  The home needs a bit of updating, but wow – what an opportunity.

277 Gatesby Road Exterior

See the exquisite detail on the garage. This unit is shared with the owner of the home across the courtyard.

The door to this bedroom once stepped out to a greenhouse on the property.

See life through the home’s abundant art glass windows.

For a video of the home, as well as more photos, see this blog from Chicago magazine’s “Deal Estate” columnist Dennis Rodkin.

George Grant Elmslie partnered with William Gray Purcell from 1907 through 1921.  Purcell and Elmslie were among the founders of the progressive architecture movement in the early 1900s. Their work is often compared to that of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Although some of their most significant commissions are no longer extant, you can still visit masterpieces such as Winona, Minnesota’s 1912 Merchants National Bank building.


The Wright Stuff in Riverside


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When people think of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Chicago masterpieces, they invariably consider the suburb of Oak Park, where the architect lived for many years and also maintained his studio. However, not far away is Riverside, the beautiful historic community whose streets were laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted.

Wright designed a home at 300 Scottswood Road in 1907-1908 for Mr. and Mrs. Avery Coonley, a forward-thinking, philanthropic couple. Over the years, the Coonley estate has undergone many changes. It was almost demolished by a developer in the 1950s, but preservationists stepped in to claim it. The house no longer exists in its original state; it has been divided into pieces.

The Coonley home’s 3,000-square-foot bedroom wing is now a separate house. The residence, originally priced at $1.3 million in 2012, sold in 2015 for $355,000. According to a 2013 story in Curbed Chicago, the home suffered water damage and foundation cracks over the years, hence its modest selling price. The home’s respective owners have kept the interiors faithful to Wright’s inspiration, as you’ll see in the photos below, circa 2012.

Exterior of 300 Scottswood, Riverside

The kitchen successfully combines original elements with new appliances, lighting and cabinetry

Art glass windows adorn the the living room’s walls.

The light-filled bedroom encourages serenity.

Levittown, Then and Now


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Taking a road trip from Chicago, we visit Long Island’s Levittown, a then-revolutionary mass-produced postwar suburb.  Interesting perspective from CNN.  The main interviewee is a woman who, with her husband, purchased their first – and last – home in the newly-developed community with a $58 down payment.  The woman, Polly Dwyer, shares her perspective on a lifetime in what was called an “all-alike place.”

The article, here.

Photos of Levittown as a new community:

Photos of few houses that are currently for sale.  At the low end, a Cape Cod-style home that looks as though it has been untouched since it was built in 1949.  Asking price: $215,000.

$215,000 buys 1BR, 1BA

At the higher end, another Cape Cod that has seen substantial renovation.

$469,000 buys 5BR, 4BA

Holiday Treasure Houses


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Right now, there are lots of treasure houses glowing all over the Chicago area.  Some are adorned with safe, tasteful little white lights.  Some have a menorah shining in the window.  Others are decorated with so many lights, they can probably be seen from Jupiter.

Here, the owner has not only decorated his home, but also his treasure, his boat.  In this west-suburban community, homeowners go all out during the season.  They decorate anything that does not move.  Every form of yard art, from tin soldiers, snowmen, Santas, snow globes and dinosaurs (now there’s a Christmas symbol for you) is on display from Thanksgiving through January.  The decorating has become a bit more subtle in recent years, whether that’s due to a change in homeowners, or the bad economy.  However, it is still quite evident that people who live there take a lot of joy in making the season bright.

Life is full of treasures, and I hope that you, dear readers (both of you), enjoy light, happiness and peace in this season.

The Little House That Could

I am making a significant departure from the typical homes featured on this blog. Today, it is time to pay tribute to a tiny house in my town. It has two bedrooms, one bath and a one-car garage. The home was built in the mid-1950s. It has been for sale or for rent several times over the years.  Many homes that were larger and more substantial have fallen to the developers, and every time I’d see a “for sale” sign in the yard, I would think the house would soon bite the dust.  For one reason or another, this little house remains, a little time capsule unto itself. It was recently purchased, treated to a fresh coat of paint and received some interior updates.

In these days of mega McMansions, it is nice to know that in a neighborhood full of three-story lot eaters, a family can still live in, and be happy in, one little house.

A Long-Gone Treasure: Villa Turicum


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I just stumbled upon the most wonderful web site dedicated to the legendary Villa Turicum, the Lake Forest estate built for Harold McCormick and his wife, Edith Rockefeller McCormick.  The 44-room Italianate villa was constructed between 1908 and 1918.  Spurning an altogether different design by Frank Lloyd Wright, the McCormicks turned to Charles Platt, an East Coast architect with a strong Italian Renaissance design vocabulary.  The McCormicks spent untold millions on the property, the home and its astounding landscaping.  However, Mrs. McCormick was said to have spent perhaps one night in the home.  Left to decay after Mrs. McCormick’s death, the villa was a victim of the wrecking ball in 1956.

The web site, a glorious tribute to a masterpiece, is here.

Just one photo, and the web site will show you the rest.

Villa Turicum, the Restored Watercourse

David Adler’s Eclectic House-on-Hill


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We’ll take a road trip from Chicago to Hillsborough, California, where David Adler designed his 1930 masterpiece, “House-on-Hill” for Celia Tobin Clark, an heiress to the Hibernia Bank fortune.  Her husband was the owner of the Montana Mining Company. The home is located on the lyrically named Verballee Lane.

If you look at this gallery of photos from a 2016 real estate listing, you’ll see that Adler didn’t seem to exhibit loyalty to any particular architectural period when designing this house.  The Tudor influence is certainly present in the exterior, but the interior is a fantastic amalgam of styles.  Somehow, it all works.  He probably had a marvelous time in designing the home in the glorious San Francisco area.  At one time, the 35,000-square-foot home rested upon 400 acres.  In 2012, the estate was offered for sale for $29 million. As of 2016, the price was lowered to $23 million.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my beloved friend Bunky Cushing for his enduring support, as well as his assistance in locating this vintage photo of this estate.

David Adler’s House-on-Hill, Hillsborough, California, circa 1930