When guests enter the century-old home at 315 N. Euclid Ave. during the Painted Lady House Walk, they’ll see original windows and wood siding, period stencil work in the entry parlor and a sturdy wooden banister leading upstairs.
But when they’re on the second floor of the 7,500-square-foot Queen Anne Victorian, past the first door on the left, they’ll see something less grand but no less significant”a computer printed sign that reads, “Andrea’s Room,” and declares the 6-year-old’s love of flowers, dance and coloring.
Pride in family and pride in home are both on display Sept. 10 during the ninth annual Painted Lady House Walk, the main fundraiser for the Nineteenth Century Club, a local philanthropic and educational non-profit organization. The owners of 315 N. Euclid Ave., Stephen and Mary Jo Schuler, like the six other families opening their homes for the walk, have lovingly restored and renovated their houses and turned them into homesteads.
The Schulers knew two-and-a-half years ago when they bought their home that they would do a top-to-bottom rehab of the 120-year-old property. But the renovation wasn’t purely aesthetic”they wanted to create a space that would serve as the hub of their family for decades to come.
“We built this home with the thinking that when our children grow up, it will be the center of activity for the neighborhood and their friends,” said Mary Jo Schuler, who in addition to her daughter, Andrea, has a 4-year-old son, Ryan. “My husband and I both come from large families and grew up in this area, so we really wanted this to be a gathering place for them, too. We want people to feel comfortable here. The way I look at it is that we’re on the 30-year plan with this house. We’re not going anywhere.”
That would be on par with the previous four owners of the home, each of whom resided in the home for about three decades.
Built in 1885, the house was designed by George O. Garnsey, an influential Chicago architect and editor of the monthly pattern book, National Home Builder. Henry Austin sold the lot, which included the corner property, for $1 to Thomas S. Rattle. Rattle took out a $5,000 mortgage and built the original structure.
The Schulers purchased the home in December 2003 for $900,000 and built a four-story addition onto the back, which added 2,500 square feet. The addition allowed for a large kitchen and family room, as well as a screened-in porch and deck. The family created a full-height finished basement. The home has 12-foot-high ceilings throughout.
The Schulers also added a 2,300-square-foot, two-story, four-car garage with an English lift. Originally, the home is said to have had a barn/carriage house, and they tried to imagine what it would’ve looked like when designing their own. One of the bays serves as an exercise room, and Schuler regards the additional area as “flex space””there’s a theater room and room for an office upstairs. There is also a kitchenette and full bath.
The renovation took two-and-a-half years to complete. The final touch, an aromatic cedar fence, was installed just last week.
Elevators and stealth speakers
A “painted lady” is typically a Victorian-era house that is painted in at least two to three contrasting, brilliant colors.
The exterior of the Schulers’ home is painted in four colors: Phillipsburg blue, Woodlawn blue, Georgian brick and white. Colors inside the house”reds, yellows, shades of blue and green”reflect Mary Jo’s attempt to find colors that are soothing and bold at the same time.
When the family stripped the wallpaper off the walls in the entry parlor, they found an original stencil design and paint underneath. They restored the walls to their original shade of green and restenciled according to the Le Fleur-inspired pattern.
Living through the remodel of their painted lady was challenging, Schuler said, particularly when she was raising two toddlers. They didn’t live in the home for the first year while some of the most extensive work was being completed.
“Certainly we had a strong interest in refurbishing and holding onto as much original structure and woodwork as we could,” she said. “We replaced rotted wood here and there, of course. And we kept the original hardware. But many people would’ve been inclined to purchase new windows, especially because it’s such a tedious and expensive process. But we said, ‘They’re 125 years old,’ and we don’t think that newer-type windows belong in a house like this.”
They did, however, buy custom screens and storms for the windows”an example of how the house reflects a mixture of old and new. “The way I think about this, it’s like living in new construction in an old building with all the latest technological advances,” Schuler said.
Those advances include an elevator.
“We take great joy in knowing our house is accessible,” she said, adding her niece is disabled and uses it when she visits. She said they also installed the elevator with their “30-year plan” in mind, knowing someday they might need it to navigate the home’s 20 rooms, which include five-and-a-half baths.
A state-of-the-art sound system has been installed throughout the home, but signs of it won’t be plentiful during the tour. “Stealth speakers” have been embedded into the new drywall. Music is also piped outside, and speakers are scattered around, including one next to the hot tub and several disguised as rocks in the landscaping.
The backyard includes a basketball court and play area. The driveway and other cement surfaces on the property have heating installed underneath them, which helps melt snow and ice in the winter.
Hunting for houses
That’s a welcome thought for Pam Brace, the Nineteenth Century Club member who has organized the house walk the past five years. As she scouted the area for homes and willing homeowners one winter, she slipped and fell on a patch of snow and ice. Brace said she now restricts her search to homes with owners who shovel their walkways.
“I drive down the street and I’m surprised I haven’t had an accident looking for these houses,” she said. “People call me up and say, ‘Have you seen such-and-such a house?’ I go up and ring the doorbell and usually the way it works is they say they’ll think it over and call me back.”
Some homeowners are immediately interested, Brace noted. Others have told her to come back in a few years and ask again. One mother said she wanted to wait until the first floor of her house wasn’t decorated by Fisher-Price.
The Schulers’ home was noticed when the family held a 50th birthday party. A club member attended the celebration and passed their name on. The home was also featured in April in a kitchen walk sponsored by Parenthesis, a nonprofit organization that provides support to local families.
“We think of the house as an architectural treasure to share with the community,” Schuler said. “We put a lot of energy and effort into it, and we’re happy to be involved in these types of philanthropic activities.”
The Painted Lady House Walk is the major fundraiser for the Nineteenth Century Club, which doles out $12,000 in benevolence and $20,000 in scholarships annually, said the group’s president, Patricia Leavy.
Leavy, who joined the club in 1987 and is in her fourth year as its head, said last year’s housewalk took in less than $5,000, but she hopes to double that amount this year. With about 225 volunteers staffing the walk”44 alone in the Schuler home”it’s a substantial undertaking for the 114-year-old organization.
Established as a women’s study group to promote education and civic involvement, the group now boasts 180 members. It has since opened its membership to men and has 17 on the roster. “[The founders of the club] were leaders of the community, and they encouraged people to become educated and advanced,” Leavy said. “That carries over and continues today with our current members.”
The group meets October through April on Mondays and holds programs on various topics in art, music, literature and social science. Recent presentations have highlighted Sears mail-order homes, child abuse and a couple who create designer quilts.
The group is invested in the community, Leavy said, and plans to use some of the housewalk’s proceeds to renovate its Forest Avenue headquarters, built in 1927. Leavy said she would like to see the swimming pool in the basement, which has been empty for almost 20 years, rehabbed and used as a warm-water therapy pool.
There are art studios that need work, she said, and the club has talked about creating a music conservatory on the third floor. An air conditioner that recently called it quits needs to be replaced as well.
“Everyday it’s something different in an old building like this,” she said.
Schuler said she didn’t face many problems renovating their family home but her advice to those who are considering a large-scale project is to assemble a skilled and talented team that produces exceptional work and craftsmanship.
“We’ve always marveled at the houses in Oak Park and we dreamt about living in one,” she said. “Something that was instilled in me at an early age is that if you’re going to do something, do it right. And with this house, I think we did it right.”