Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest welcomes spring with Mediterranean-themed housewalk

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Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

After suffering through a less than pleasant March, area home owners must know that April has to have something better up its sleeve. The Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest plans to bring a touch of the sun to the season with its 10th annual housewalk by way of the Mediterranean.

On Saturday, April 20, five significant homes in River Forest will open their doors. Kathy Mahoney, of the historical society, helped choose this year's selections.

"We try to focus on a certain area of Oak Park or River Forest first, and then it's nice to focus on a particular style because then we can discuss aspects of that style on our program book," she said. "This year, I came across the Lambert's house and that inspired us to focus on Mediterranean homes. Their house is one of those homes that people drive by and just want to see inside."

Joseph J. Butler House

Donna and Matthew Lambert's home is expected to be one of the highlights of this year's tour. Known as the Joseph J. Butler House, the Keystone Avenue home boasts a European feel as well as stories about local history that are as fascinating as the architecture.

Built in 1925 for Butler and his wife, it was originally used as a summer home. Butler, who at the time was the commissioner for Streets and Sanitation in Chicago, kept a suite at the Drake Hotel for himself and his wife, Lily, but they decided to seek the quiet streets of the western suburbs when they chose a locale for their summer home.

The interior of the home includes many original details that Butler picked up during his travels through Europe. In the living room, 15 floor-to-ceiling art-glass windows depict the life of Christopher Columbus who was thought to be an ancestor of Butler.

Butler's great nephew has visited the residence with photos and newspaper clippings. "He enlightened us to the more private side of the Butlers," said Donna. "They were a childless couple, and moved to River Forest as their year-round home in 1935. At that time, they did a lot of renovations to the home, adding bedrooms. The great nephew was a child at the time, and he was there for some of the construction. He remembers clearly the bill for the installation of the marble slab flooring was $9,000."

In the early 1950s, Lily developed a heart condition and could no longer climb the home's stairs so the couple moved back to the Drake. Donna said the story of Lily Butler's death, as reported by the Chicago Herald, was also quite interesting. Lily became ill and had the house doctor called to her room. When the doctor reported to Joseph that she had died, Joseph dropped dead on the suite's living room floor, prompting the headline, "Butler, Wife Die at Drake."

The Lamberts have done their best to keep the home in its original condition. They maintained unique light fixtures, ornate moldings and inlaid art mosaics, while also modernizing the home.

Donna notes, "It was difficult to find someone to do the work due to the home's historic features, but eventually we found someone who had worked on churches and was very comfortable with the house. We tried to restore its original scheme while updating the kitchen and family room."

Jackson Avenue home

Melisande Van Liedekerke's home on Jackson Avenue is currently on the market, and it provides a window into another side of the Mediterranean Style in River Forest. From the exterior, the red-tile roofed home with three balconies and arched doors exude Spanish style. Over the years, Van Liedekerke has updated the interior of her 1927 home, taking care to infuse it with light and details that hew closely to its Mediterranean spirit.

The original blueprints are framed and displayed in the formal dining room, allowing guests to take in the home's past.

Van Liedekerke completely redesigned the rear of the home, adding a chef's kitchen and informal eating area. She collaborated with local kitchen designer Jean Stoffer to create a showcase kitchen that not only features top of the line appliances and cabinets, but does so in a way that flatters the home's spirit. Argentinean Blue Luis granite counters complement the Amish-made knotty alder and turquoise cabinetry. Radiant-heated tiled floors flow into the informal dining space. Both the kitchen and dining space include custom windows and doors leading to the backyard.

Van Liedekerke has also maintained historic touches such as the living room's massive fireplace and ornate ceiling moldings. Due to her efforts, the home showcases a sensitive modernization. She turned the former kitchen and pantry area into a first floor laundry room and powder room. In adding space to the home to create an updated kitchen, she included two interior skylights that provide light throughout the interior rooms. Tiles and hardware from Mexico add to the warm weather feel of the home.

"I tried to incorporate modern, higher-end style within the older framework of the home," she says.

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