Photos by J. GEIL/Photo Editor

When a new job forced Tom and Kelli Kline to leave Delaware for the Chicago area in 1997, Kelli had precise ideas about the type of community she wanted to live in. The couple had just finished restoring a Victorian, and because she enjoyed the process so much, to move would mean setting out to accomplish yet another project. Kelli convinced her husband that they had to find a similar home to restore in Illinois.

The Klines were steered toward Oak Park, and immediately knew that the architecturally and historically rich village would be their new home. When they first toured the John I. Jones House on Grove Avenue, they weren’t sure if they were ready to tackle such a big project.

Built for Cicero Township President John I. Jones in 1887, the corner Victorian had undergone extensive changes. Kelli notes that the former owners had lived there since the 1970s and much of the home’s original details had been covered up or changed.

“Most everything was very 70s style,” she recalls. “All the woodwork had been painted white, there was shag carpet everywhere and the outside of the home had been altered over the years.”

Kelli’s friends in Delaware gave her a going away gift that inspired much of the work to be done on the house. The friends called up the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, where Frank Lipo, now the executive director, was able to find an original photo of the Jones house. Kelli’s friends had it framed for her as a parting gift. Once the Klines moved in, the photo became the inspiration for their exterior restoration. Due to the connection with the historical society, Kelli began to volunteer her time, and now serves as president of the board.

The Klines learned that the front porch of the Jones home had been renovated in 1894 or 1895 by noted area architect Fidelke, who also designed neighboring houses. The neoclassical style of the renovation matched the homes in the neighborhood but not the original Victorian style of the Jones house. The Klines used old photos as a guide in returning the front porch to its original style.

Inside the home, the Klines had to update all the mechanical systems, but with Kelli at the helm, their nearly 15-year long renovation and restoration was incredibly sensitive to its history. A chance meeting with an elderly neighbor on the sidewalk led the Klines to the grandson of the original owner, also named John Jones, and he was able to bring the Klines photos and relate important details. Kelli used these photos to help her make decorating decisions.

“I really feel like the original owner is a part of the house,” she says. “I wanted to incorporate that into the restoration.”

Lipo notes that the Klines’ approach is somewhat unique in the area.

“Kelli and Tom do things well with a meticulous study of what’s authentic and in keeping with the style of the house and the era it was built,” he says. “There’s an inclination here for people to buy an old house and change it by adding on to the back of the house to create more space. The Klines resisted this contemporary trend. Of course, not everything has to be locked in time, but keeping the original footprint of the house allowed them to create an incredible backyard space.”

The home is a specific Victorian style known as the Aesthetic style, a period of design popular from the 1870s to the 1880s, says Kelli. This style is characterized by Japanese, Greek and Egyptian influences, which she has attempted to include in the interior design.

“I love the Japanese influence,” she says. “You can see it in the ebonized cabinets in the parlor and dining rooms, the bamboo hall tree and the wallpaper designs.”

Using original photos of the home, Kelli was able to mimic the Jones’ use of intricate patterns in wallpaper throughout the parlors and the rest of the house. On the front parlor’s ceiling, local artist Allison Meyer created a scene playing into the home’s aesthetic past. A mural representing the four seasons includes Japanese references such as cherry blossoms for spring and a maple tree for fall.

The kitchen is another area where the Klines bucked the prevalent trends in which new owners create a modern chef’s kitchen in an older space. Instead, they worked with kitchen designer Jean Stoffer to create a space that appears to be original to the house. The cabinets resemble free-standing cabinetry. A vintage sink, stove and tin ceiling add period appeal.

“When we first moved, I had a list of things I wanted,” remembers Kelli. “I wanted something unusual. I had to have a really ornate Victorian staircase, and I wanted ornate wooden mantels. I didn’t get the mantels — the original fireplace surrounds are marble — but we got so much more than we planned for.

“We found you really can mix the old and the new, and you don’t have to blow out walls to do so,” she adds. “My love of the house turned me into a lover of the history of the community. Oak Park and River Forest is so rich with architecture and history, it’s a fabulous community.”

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