Not your average housewalk

Coach house tour benefits Pleasant Home Foundation

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By Lacey Sikora

On Sunday, Sept. 24, the Pleasant Home Tour of Homes presents the "Evolution of Oak Park Coach Houses," a tour of eight local coach houses, each uniquely repurposed for modern use. 

The tour will feature eight Oak Park coach houses transformed into a music studio, party room, art museum, a residence and more. Pleasant Home Foundation Executive Heide Ruehle-May says the tour is all part of the Pleasant Home's focus for its fundraising housewalks to present one-of-a-kind home experiences in the area. 

"A few years back, we made a decision to make our home tour different than all of the other wonderful tours in Oak Park," Ruehle-May. "We try to focus on special spaces, as we did with our mid-century modern tour in 2014. The first owner of the Pleasant Home, John Farson, loved his cars, and there used to be a coach house on the property, so we decided to focus on coach houses."

Ruehle-May notes that all eight of the coach houses are in proximity to the Pleasant Home, 217 Home Ave., and form a few clusters, allowing participants to easily walk between a few houses at a time. She says the selection committee worked to choose a wide variety of coach houses. 

"One is newer construction, but on the property of the potentially oldest home in Oak Park, and there was an historic coach house there to begin with," Ruehle-May said. "We're excited about [Frank Lloyd Wright's] Heurtley House. They've done an incredible job of using their space."

Each of the eight coach houses has a dedicated researcher who has studied the architect of the main home, the year the coach house was built and the original use of the coach house.

Oak Park Art League

One of the coach houses on the tour is now home to the Oak Park Art League on Chicago Avenue. 

Executive Director Julie Carpenter notes that the coach house was designed in 1902 by E.E. Roberts for a large Victorian home built in 1894 by Henry Ryan on Oak Park Avenue. Carpenter says that the building is large part of the Art League's identity.

"We're excited to be included in this tour," Carpenter said. "I think that the building is really what brands us an arts organization. I see us as an early 20th-century cornerstone in the community between the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio and the Ernest Hemingway Home."

One of Illinois' oldest arts organizations, the Oak Park Art League was founded with the fundraising help of Grace Hemingway in 1921, and its first exhibit was held at Grace Episcopal Parish Hall in 1925. 

In 1924-25, the organization moved to Frank Lloyd Wright's studio for a few years. In 1937, retired architect and Art League member E.E. Roberts was asked to adapt the coach house on Chicago Avenue into a new headquarters for the Art League.

Carpenter notes that since Roberts was a painter who used the Art League's studio space, he was uniquely situated to create a gallery and studio space out of a building originally created to house horses.

"What's interesting is that he stopped the walls at about eight feet high, so you can actually see what it might be like as a stable," Carpenter said. "Legend has it that there's a horse buried under the southeast eave, but that's just a bit of interesting oral history."

Carpenter notes that the 96-year-old organization recently formed a partnership with the Oak Park River Forest Garden Club to clean up their yard space in time for the one hundredth anniversary of the Art League. 

"It's called the Avant Gardeners initiative," Carpenter said. "Together with the Garden Club, we have almost 200 years of combined local history."

Coach house 'before'

On Linden Avenue, Megan Lewis and her husband are sharing their coach house to offer a glimpse into an original style of the above-the-garage space. Since moving into their 1920s era house earlier in the year, Lewis says they have been focused on rehabbing the main house, but believe the coach house has major possibilities.

"The coach house has a lot of really charming features" Lewis said. "It's like a mini version of the main house with the same window details and door trim."

From their research, they have determined that the coach house has not been inhabited since the 1940s or 1950s, and Lewis says it is in need of major updates. 

"From the neighbors, we have heard that all of the owners have had aspirations to rent it out or to use it as an office or a guest house," she said.

The closest they have come was when an owner in the 1980s painted it in loud colors. As she paints over the purple, teal, yellow and red, Lewis says that she and her husband still have plans for the space – someday.

"I grew up a block and a half away and have driven by this house a bajillion times," Lewis said. "It's kind of fun to be a steward of this lovely old house. When we bought it, we envisioned doing something exciting with the coach house space."

For now, the approximate 500-square-foot space still sports its small kitchen, bath, living area and bedroom sleeping porch, all of the floor plan dating to at least 1932, according to historical listing materials for the house.

Kelly Scott of Divine Consign is staging the rooms for the tour, a refreshing change from the storage space the Lewis family was using it for. Lewis envisions a day the space is a finished Airbnb rental. 

"It's not a bad layout but it needs a whole lot of modernizing," Lewis said. "It's fun and whimsical, but it hasn't had people living in it for 70 years. But, considering that, it's held its own."

Extras

This year, the Pleasant Home is partnering with Divvy for the tour, offering participants an easy way to travel between houses. Participants can use the code PLEASANT to get $2 off a Divvy 24-hour pass, regularly priced at $9.95.

Weather-permitting, each home on the tour will showcase an antique automobile, providing a second reason to get out of your house and enjoy a day viewing someone else's property.

At the Oak Park Art League stop on the tour, participants are welcome to view an art class in progress. For 96 years, the Oak Park Art League has been offering figure drawing classes, and on the day of the walk, participants are welcome to observe the class that meets from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Art League studio, formerly the carriage house hay loft.

Reader Comments

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Heidi Ruehle-May from Oak Park  

Posted: September 12th, 2017 1:49 PM

Speaking on behalf of the Pleasant Home Foundation, we are so thankful that our generous homeowners have opened up their unique spaces for this one-of-a-kind tour! Volunteers receive free admission - we could use a few more for Sept. 24.

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