Category Archives: Frank Lloyd Wright

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

Our Winter Excursion to the Stockman House
And the Discovery of a Scale Model of our American System Built Home

Stockman House, Mason City, Iowa

Since buying our American System Built house in Northeast Iowa last year, we’ve been planning to visit all of the other Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes in the state. There was talk over the summer of taking a weekend trek to Mason City to tour the Stockman House and the Historic Park Inn, both of which were under construction a few years before our house was built. As it turns out, our own house projects trumped any plans for a road trip this summer.

We finally had the occasion to make the 2 1/2 hour drive to Mason City last week. And while the extremely cold temperatures kept us from fully appreciating all that Mason City has to offer, we did get to tour the Stockman house. We’ve been particularly interested in seeing the Stockman House because it is very similar in design to our own home. Built in 1909, the Stockman is based on Wright’s fireproof home designs, which is a style that the architect relied heavily on when he was designing the American System homes.

We were hoping to glean some tips on the restoration of our own home by visiting the Stockman house. And while we did get a few ideas from our tour, the real treat of the trip was stumbling upon a scale model of our own home.

Scale model of the Delbert Meier House

We had just walked into the Architectural Interpretive Center adjacent to the Stockman house and were trying to warm up when the docent asked us about our connection to Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Oh,” The Mister replied, “we actually own one of his American System Built homes here in Iowa.”

“You mean this one?” the docent asked as she pointed toward a little house made of balsa wood.Scale model of the Delbert Meier House at the Architectural Interpretive Center in Mason City, Iowa

“Mister!” he called from across the room. “They have our house!”

The fact that there is a scale model of our house is not a total surprise. We knew through a previous email exchange with a professor of architecture that models had been created of all of the Wright homes in Iowa, including our American System Built home. We did not, however, know that the models still existed. And we certainly had no idea that the model of our house was on display in Mason City. What a wonderful surprise!

Scale model of Delbert Meier House

The model was built by Raymond Gandayuwana and Derek Quang and is a very accurate depiction not only of the house but the landscape surrounding it. From the windows to the trim and even down to the gradient in the landscaping, the model is an amazing representation of our home as it would have looked before the front facade was altered. There is one window missing from the second floor of the model house, but why quibble over small details?

MORE WRIGHT IN IOWA INFORMATION:

Images: 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

Came Glasswork: The Windows Are the Soul of Our House

Original Zinc Glass Windows on Our American System Built Home | This American House

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, as the old saying goes, then the windows are the soul of our house. One of the few original features remaining, the windows are also one of the first things that made us fall in love with the house. I don’t mean the number of windows in each room – although that certainly won us over in an instant. I’m talking about the actual 97-year-old original windows. And, in particular, the art glass windows that are in each corner of the upstairs rooms and along the large wall in the living room.

Plans for Zinc Glass Windows for American System Built homes | This American House

We got confirmation from the house plans that we dug up at the Avery Library that the art glass windows are indeed original to the house. We has initially assumed that the windows are lead glass but they are in fact zinc glass. This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to us since Frank Lloyd Wright used zinc glass in many of the homes he designed, including the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois.

The technical, design-y term for this kind of glass is came glasswork. As wikipedia says, “Came glasswork is the process of joining cut pieces of art glass through the use of came strips or foil into picturesque designs in a framework of soldered metal.” Although lead is perhaps the most common material used in came glasswork, brass, copper and zinc can also be used. According to Wikipedia, “Zinc makes a lightweight, strong and rigid came, which lends itself to glasswork projects that don’t have many curved lines, are large, or have a number of straight lines that require greater support than lead would afford.” With the straight lines and large panes in our windows, it definitely makes sense that Wright would specify zinc in the plans.

Zinc Glass Windows in the Delbert Meier House | This American House

That these windows, with their wood frames and zinc came, have endured for 97 years is a testament to good house stewardship. Although many of the other original features in the house were pulled out 40+ years ago, the windows remain. They not only remain, actually, they’ve been lovingly maintained and restored over the years.

When we finally met Peter and Becky, the house’s owners for more than thirty years, and the folks responsible for giving the house its birth”wright”, as they say, we commented on our love of the windows. Peter piped up that the windows weren’t always so nice. Years of summer rainstorms and winter freezes hadn’t been kind to the zinc glass windows (or any of the windows for that matter). Peter made it his mission to get the windows back in shape and keep them that way. He cleaned up the rotting wood and had the zinc came glasswork encased to protect and restore it. We’re eternally grateful to Peter for making the windows his personal project for so many years.

Images: This American House and The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York