In search of a fascinating glimpse into this community’s architectural past? This year’s housewalk, put on by the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, will spotlight examples of Tudor revival architecture in River Forest, and each of the estate homes offers unique insight into the style.
Kelly Kline, president of the Historical Society of Oak Park River Forest, started the housewalk eight years ago along with Jean Guarino to raise money for the not-for-profit community organization. “We have such a wonderful array of historic homes here in Oak Park and River Forest. It’s like a candy store,” she says. “You can’t touch the history and uniqueness of these two communities.”
Kline said the organization zeroed in on the Tudor architectural style because of its beauty, with plenty to choose from on the north side of River Forest. The tour will showcase five homes, four Tudors and a “unique Cotswold cottage.”
The Tudor style is defined by incredible use of details throughout the exterior and interior of the homes. Steeply pitched roofs, massive chimneys, decorative half-timber framing, leaded casement windows and herringbone brick give Tudors their distinctive curb appeal. In the interiors, timber beams, stone fireplaces, step-down livings rooms, wrought iron and interior arches continue the style.
Peggy Tuck, a board member with the historical society, notes that three of the homes on the walk were built by the Burma Brothers, builders who built many homes throughout the village.
“Most of the homes were built in the 1920s to 1930s,” she says. “When automobile use skyrocketed, the neighborhoods in northern River Forest became more developed as there was no longer a need to be so close to public transportation. The homes on the walk are good examples of this new era of building.”
On Franklin Street, two distinctive homes sit side by side. Oak Park architect Arthur Maiwurm designed 1036 Franklin in 1931, and the home has been meticulously restored by current owners Kathleen and Douglas Kurtenbach. One of its most impressive rooms is the library: a wood-paneled room that features built-in cabinetry and a ceiling that features hand-painted details from the Canterbury Tales.
Kathleen says that although most of the original details remained in the room, everything had to be restored.
“The Art Institute recommended a company called Parma Conservation to restore the mural on the ceiling and the mural over the fireplace,” she remembers. “Workers spent weeks on their backs with cotton balls, cleaning years of grime and dirt off the paintings. In addition to the paintings, we also cleaned and restored the original wood fireplace and the andirons.”
Kathleen notes the importance of looking up and down in Tudor design.
“Tudors are known for having a fifth plane: the four walls, plus the floor and ceiling. The walls in our house are original, restored plaster. In our living room, you see a common Tudor element, wooden beams. We were convinced they were really made of wood timbers, until we discovered that these original beams were actually made of plaster and faux-finished. In the entryway, the slate floors with their insets of black slate, are another detail often found in Tudors.”
Next door, the Tudor has a slightly more eclectic design. The home was built in the late 1920s, and according to Tuck, “with the predominance of lannon stone on the exterior and some chateau style elements such as the rounded turret, pepper pot roof and battlement-style wall in the rear, this home is a mixture of styles.”
Like the Kurtenbachs next door, homeowners Maureen and John Osborne enjoy a spectacular library. The walls appear to be wood-paneled from floor to ceiling, but on close examination, the “wood” is revealed to be amazingly detailed plaster work, much like the Kurtenbach’s living room ceiling beams. The library ceiling is decorated with a mural depicting the signs of the zodiac. More Tudor details echo throughout the home in the arched doorways, wrought iron balustrades on the staircase and the dining room’s plaster ceiling medallion.
Around the corner on Park Avenue, Michelle and Noel Moore’s Burma-built Tudor features a brick exterior and original banded front door, with a brass-covered peep hole. From the entry, visitors will enjoy the four arched entrances to other rooms in the house, a curving wrought-iron staircase, and a view of one of two built-in wall niches that decorate the staircase walls. The step-down living room — another feature commonly found in Tudors — includes the home’s original stone fireplace and two original sconces, which the Moore’s contractor was able to match to re-create the two sets that originally graced the room.
The Moore’s collection of antique furniture from different eras marries well with the Tudor style of the interior. Victorian eclectic furnishings predominate, with lovely examples in the dining room set, and Michelle’s dining room desk which features carvings of four faces meant to represent the four seasons. In the office, a burled walnut bookcase built around 1865 features black tear drop handles meant to honor the death of Abraham Lincoln. In the living room, an Irish pub table has barley twist legs that mimic the curve of the original fireplace’s scrolls. In every room throughout the home, the creative use of antiques imbues the setting with a distinctive personality.