Category Archives: architecture

Prairie Sale: A 1915 John S. Van Bergen House
741 Sheridan Road, Evanston, Illinois

John S. Van Bergen House at 741 Sheridan Road Evanston Illinois

I’ve been in the city a lot lately due to a new day job. While I usually make the trek out to the house on Friday nights, I decided to stay in the city this weekend. I had errands to run and I needed a break from the commute out the house. We were lucky enough to get a quick taste of spring this weekend, with temperatures in the 60’s and sunny skies above. So on Sunday afternoon I pumped up the tires on my bike and took myself out to soak up some springtime sunshine.

It was on my ride that I discovered this gorgeous Prairie style home in Evanston, Illinois. The house at 741 Sheridan Road was designed by John S. Van Bergen and, judging by the photos in the real estate listing, it’s everything that I want our house to be.

John S. Van Bergen Home at 741 Sheridan Road

If you think that this house looks a lot like Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs – and indeed our own American System Built Home – you’re right. John S. Van Bergen worked for Wright in his studio in Oak Park. As part of his work for Wright, Van Bergen supervised the Robie House and the Mrs. Thomas Gale House. Hailing from Oak Park originally, Van Bergen was undoubtedly influenced by Wright’s Prairie style early in his life. In fact, according to the Wikipedia page about Van Bergen, his “mother was friends with Wright’s mother, Anna, and Van Bergen’s third grade teacher was Wright’s sister, Maginel.”

I stopped in my tracks when I came upon the house at 741 Sheridan Road. Not only am I interested in Prairie style architecture, but this particular house is for sale! I stopped, snapped a photo and then pedaled my way back home, where I immediately searched for details on the house.

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The house was built in 1915, just two years before our ASB home. I can see some similarities between this house and the ASB homes that Wright designed. The wood trim and corner windows are hallmarks of the Prairie style, as are the stucco exterior and low roofline.

With a price of $1.75 million, this house is way, way, way out of our league. It is, however, a great reminder of what we want to do in rehabbing our own more modest house. We want to get the wood trim in our house stripped and refinished. And we want to have the exterior trim and windows repainted. (Speaking of, I love the green trim used on this house in Evanston, but I think we’ll probably go with a red or brown paint for our trim.)

For more information on the house at 741 Sheridan Road, check out the real estate listing at Sotheby’s.

Images: 1. This American House, 2. and 3. Sotheby’s

Peering Over the Fence: Dealing with House Envy

Delbert Meier House

When other Frank Lloyd Wright-designed properties pop up on the market, we can’t help but peer over the proverbial fence and compare notes. Mind you, this is more easily done with other Wright-designed Prairie houses, like our own. Recently, some Usonian houses have come up for sale. Each has been beautifully and thoroughly designed; one must feel as though one is actually living in a work of art, even more so than we do in our gorgeous house. A recent listing showed stunning interiors covered in wood – ceilings, walls, built-in shelves and furniture. We wonder, however, how much a completely designed house pushes out the homeowners’ ability to be co-creative with the space? If there are no walls to paint and little furniture needed to add, what more is there to do than fill up the built-in shelves and perhaps change out curtains and floor rugs?

Our house is somewhat of a blank canvas, held within a Wright-designed frame. The frame does dictate to some degree how we fill in the canvas, but for the most part it’s ours with which to play. We are certainly choosing to restore some interior elements to the house that were altered or removed years ago, like the original built-in cabinets, woodwork, and fireplace. We also hope to eventually “Wright” some alterations made to the exterior of the house, and frame it with more organic landscaping. But that said, we have little interest in making the house a museum. We would rather it be a space in which we can live in harmony with what it once was and was meant to be, but also with what it is now and can be. It’s a heady task, this balancing act between preserving the form of the house while updating its function, but we think we’re on the right (if not completely “Wright”) track.

— Michael

Image: This American House

A House on the Move Makes a Stop at the Grocery Store

The John Irving Residence | This American House

Have you heard about the John Van Bergen-designed James Irving Residence? It’s a house on the move … literally! This architecturally significant house (Van Bergen worked in Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio) is being relocated from the Wilmette, Illinois site where it was built in 1928 to a new plot of land in nearby Evanston. They must’ve run out of milk on the way because the house is currently parked in the parking lot of a grocery store!

John Irving Residence on the Move | This American House

After a developer purchased the house and expressed intent to demolish it and build a new structure on the site, Christopher Enck purchased the Prairie Style structure and arranged its move. To make the move, which occurred over a three day period beginning last Friday, the house has been split into three sections.

Apparently the house’s new site isn’t quite ready and so in the meantime it’s hanging out in the parking lot of an empty grocery store. The three sections of the house, with the exposed ends covered in big plastic tarps, sit on massive trailers in the parking lot of the former Dominick’s store on Green Bay Road in Evanston.

Moving House: The John Irving Residence

Isn’t it amazing that you can uproot a house from its foundation and relocate it? I mean, we usually think of houses as these immovable structures (at least we HOPE they’re immovable) so it boggles the mind to see that one can be cut up, lifted and carried away.

Well of course The Mister just had to drive past the house and snap some photos. He was surprised to see that the house is really just sitting there in the parking lot, no fence surrounding it or guard protecting it.

Does this mean that we can pick up This American House and move it back to the city? Um, yeah, probably not.

More about the Irving House move: 

  • You can see a short video of the house being moved at the Chicago Tribune.
  • Evanston Now has a great recap on the move and the house.
  • Wright in Racine also has a nice recap and photos of the move.
  • For a little more history, check out Saving and Moving the Irving House on PrairieMod

Images: This American House

Prairie School: 508 South Beaumont, Prairie du Chien, WI

Prairie School: 508 S. Beaumont, Prairie du Chien, WI | This American House

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that driving around looking at houses is one of our favorite pastimes. Among the older homes on any given block, you’re sure to see variations on a few styles. Tudors and Victorians and Colonials are some of the most common designs we’ll encounter on our sightseeing jaunts. So when we come across a Prairie style house – especially one in great condition – it always gets our notice.

A detour on our way to Piggly Wiggly led us to this beautiful Prairie style house in, of all places, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. “Stop the car!” The Mister implored as I raced toward the Pig for nourishment. I pulled a u-turn in the middle of the street and doubled back to 508 South Beaumont, the site of this beautiful Prairie Style house. We snapped a few photos and then spent the rest of the afternoon wondering whether it could be one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes … or at least the design of one of his students.

508 S. Beaumont, Prairie du Chien, WI | This American House

When we got back home later that day I Googled around and found an old listing for the house. Here’s what I was able to learn:

  • The house dates to 1914. (That’s three years older than our house.)
  • The listing refers to the house as “Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired.”
  • At the time of the listing, the house still featured a number of built-ins, including a kitchen buffet and hutch.
  • The original hardwood floors are intact but the rest of the wood trim has all been painted.
  • The house is palatial with 2,976 square feet that contains four bedrooms and three and a half baths.

According to Realtor.com, the house was last listed for $199,500 in December 2013 and then delisted later that same month. The property history on Realtor.com also shows that the house has been listed and delisted multiple times over the past few years.

It’s always amazing to us to see how these big old houses are priced in small towns. Even in this difficult housing market if you could pick this house up and move it to Chicago, it would list for close to a million dollars. If not more. To see that the house has been listed for a fraction of that price is a testament to the shortage of high paying jobs in small town America. After all, we had to drive five hours out of Chicago before we could find a big old house we could afford! But of course we can only afford it because we have jobs back in the city.

But don’t let me get on a diatribe about the economy and the dearth of good jobs! This post is all about this gorgeous Prairie Style house and how we’re happy to have discovered it.

To see photos of the inside of the house, check out this old listing on Zillow.

Images: This American House

House Research: What We Learned About Our American System Built-Home on A Trip to Avery Library

American System Built Home model M202 plans | This American House

On our trip out East last month, The Mister and I made a pit stop at The Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University. We had learned that the Frank Lloyd Wright archives were moved from Taliesen West, where they had been gathered and preserved by Mrs. Wright upon her husband’s death in 1959, to the Avery Library. More importantly, we learned that there was a big file on Wright’s American System-Built homes. We made an appointment to peruse the stacks and crossed our fingers that we would unearth some new details about our house.

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