Kitchens kick off housewalk season

Parenthesis fundraiser knows the way to home-lovers' hearts

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Writer

When housewalk season begins, it's a sure sign that spring is finally here. Kicking off a season of local home tours, Oak Park-based Parenthesis Family Center offers an annual favorite with their 29th Kitchen Walk on Saturday, April 26. 

Doris Huang, chair of this year's walk, notes that the fundraiser is the biggest moneymaker of the year for Parenthesis, which offers services to strengthen family bonds and facilitate the healthy development of parents and young children.

This year's walk features 10 homes: eight in Oak Park and two in River Forest. Beyond providing coveted glimpses into designer kitchen remodels, the walk also highlights area-based businesses. Westgate Flowers and Plants will adorn the homes, while local landscapers spruce up the homes' exteriors. Oak Park's Alioto's and Forest Park's Yearbook contribute tablescape inspiration, and one of the homes will feature a working kitchen with appetizers served up by Chef Denise Norton of Forest Park's Flavour Cooking School.

Huang notes that the homes themselves provide plenty of inspiration to attendees, with a variety of kitchen styles, ranging from the rumored oldest home in Oak Park to Prairie-style to newly constructed contemporary design.

Traditional with a twist

Oak Park's Denise Hauser is no stranger to the Parenthesis Kitchen Walk. As an interior designer who specializes in kitchens, her work has been featured on the walk many times. This year, she'll wear two hats — owner and designer — showcasing a contemporary kitchen she designed for a client and her own more traditional kitchen. Years of experience in the business have given Hauser plenty to work with in re-designing her own kitchen, but she readily admits being her own toughest client.

"One of the bents I focus on in my design work is finding out what my clients' lives call for," she said. "I don't design a 'Denise' kitchen for all my clients. Each design is different, based on my clients' personalities and their homes. It was a blessing and a curse to be designing my own kitchen because I love both traditional and modern design. It was a struggle to pick a lane. 

"For this kitchen, my paradigm was 'modern vintage.' I had to nod to the house's history while balancing that history with modern details."

When the Hausers moved into their home eight years ago, they knew the kitchen and bathrooms needed to be redone. It took six years and one cabinet door falling off for Hauser to summon the determination to tackle her dark and dated 1980s kitchen. Previous owners had expanded the kitchen with a family-room addition, but it didn't suit the character of the 1890s home.

Hauser replaced the windows throughout the kitchen and adjoining family room to reference the home's original windows. Altamira art glass designed a leaded-glass pattern over the kitchen sink to match the original windows at the front of the house. A wall of doors from the family room to the side porch was replaced with four doors, creating a more Victorian aesthetic. Hauser did not neglect the smaller details in integrating the new kitchen into the older home.

"Another piece that was important was the millwork," she said. "I had 12 pieces custom-made to match the front of the house. I really looked at this as a restoration of the home, so I took a holistic approach. The kitchen was very dark, so the use of natural light was important. We opened things up by installing double-sided glass cabinets in the kitchen and facing the dining room. They let the southern light in. We replicated the millwork from the front hall on the dining room side to make the cabinetry look like a traditional built-in instead of a pass-through."

Hauser's appliance choice provides modern convenience while also complementing the home's Victorian vibe. The tall refrigerator is paneled to match the cabinetry, with an appliqué on the front that is modeled after a pattern on home's original door hardware. The dishwasher and freezer are drawer models also paneled in the front to resemble cabinet drawers.

Prairie-style kitchen

When Inga Simitz and her husband purchased their East Avenue Prairie-style home, they knew little about its provenance. Through some Internet research, they discovered a book from 1907 titled, Cement World, and were pleasantly surprised to find interior and exterior pictures of their home, which is credited to architect Charles E. White, who worked in the Frank Lloyd Wright Studio and also designed the Cheney Mansion and the main post office in Oak Park. 

The home, built for E.E. Andrews, a contractor who also worked with Wright, had a very well-maintained interior and featured original built-in cabinetry, light fixtures, a fireplace and 37 art-glass windows.

Simitz said reworking the kitchen had always been a priority for the family. 

"We had a big yard," she noted, "with no direct access from the kitchen. If we wanted to barbecue, we had to walk through the side entrance and around to the yard."

Working with River Forest contractor Brian Manola and architect Chris Walmouth, the Simitz family enlarged their kitchen, added a powder room and walk-in pantry, and outdoor access with a cedar deck. "We specifically worked to integrate the kitchen with the rest of the house."

It does, fitting seamlessly with the home's original, unpainted woodwork. Amish Custom Cabinetry in Park Ridge provided quarter-sawn oak cabinets that match the home's period, and Simitz noted that the trim work was also an important part of the design. 

"Brian's carpenters were the key," she said. "They were from New Zealand and were so meticulous and careful. I think they enjoyed the challenge of measuring our existing millwork and making sure everything matched."

Throughout the space, the family combined modern touches with Prairie style. A sub-zero refrigerator, Wolf range, wine refrigerator and a communication station make this chef's kitchen a hub for family life. Salvaged art-glass windows were re-used above the range and wine fridge, and Rookwood tiles from Oak Park's Heritage Tile on the backsplash bring a vintage feel to the room.

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