Does growing up in an architectural wonder have the ability to change your life? Beyond the pleasant effects of living in an aesthetically pleasing environment, it might be hard to argue that your home’s provenance has a major impact on your lifestyle.
River Forest’s Angie Poulos makes the argument with ease. Poulos grew up in a William Drummond-designed Prairie Style home on Keystone Avenue in River Forest and felt so strongly about its positive effects that she ended up back in it later in life to raise her six children.
“As a Montessori teacher for 27 years, I realize that people react to how the environment is meeting their needs. I knew from a very young age that this house was something special. Speaking for my brother and sister too, living here changes how you feel. The connection with nature, and the house flooded with light, provided a real feel of safety.”
Poulos believes that the Prairie Style itself contributed to her feelings of protection.
“The horizontal banding around the house, the horizontal board and batten and the horizontal lines of the window sequences are peaceful and rhythmic, like a haiku or strings on a harp,” she says. “It’s very soothing and restful. I think it shapes the occupant’s personalities, or at least the way you behaved.”
A childhood home
The home was designed in 1915 by Drummond, a former student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Poulos’ parents, George and Helen Maggos, purchased it in 1950 when Poulos was 3 years old.
“My father had played football at Northwestern and loved the homes around Evanston, but his business was near Rush Medical Center, so he chose to move to River Forest to be closer to work. At that time, Keystone was a red brick street with houses set back, and he fell in love with the house and the street because it reminded him of the Northwestern area.
Poulos said her father bought the house without his wife ever seeing it. “They had no awareness of the architectural history of the home.”
She remembers that her mother decorated in the fashion of the time with white walls, brocade curtains and wall-to-wall carpeting, but even those decorating choices didn’t obscure the Prairie Style.
“A big focus of the Prairie Style was integrating the structure with the prairie landscape. The many banded windows in the home ensure that the outside and nature are always apparent,” says Poulos. “At the time, all of the kids who grew up here had a close relationship with nature. We lived so close to the Des Plaines River, and there were no fences then. We had a beaten path through our backyards to Lincoln School.”
Summer camp connection
When Poulos was 8 years old, her mother began sending her to a girl’s camp in Spring Green, Wis. What was meant to be a typical overnight, horseback-riding camp experience turned into much more.
Camp Hilltop was run by Herb and Eloise Fritz. Herb was an architect who had trained with Frank Lloyd Wright at nearby Taliesin. Poulos remembers the architectural influences throughout the camp.
“Herb turned an old barn into a girls’ dormitory, and outbuildings into artists’ studios. With his own two hands, he made the bunks and sink cabinets. He was hugely influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright in the design of the furniture and buildings.”
Every summer, Poulos says, Mrs. Wright hosted the campers for a concert at Taliesin.
“I remember being allowed to roam the grounds of the home, and the rotunda room with individual, child-sized benches for the harpsichord concerts,” she says. “The acoustics were amazing. Part of the Prairie School aesthetic that we saw at Taliesin was a design that took into consideration what children see and created intimate spaces for them.”
Coming back home, Poulos says, she had the same sensorial experience in her parents’ home.
“The windows are only 20 inches off the floor, so children can easily see out. They bring the outside in, but the overhanging eaves make you feel very protected while also providing a lot of privacy.”
A new generation
Poulos’ parents continued to live in the home throughout her college years, her first wedding and her purchase of another River Forest home. When her parents were ready to downsize, they couldn’t bear to sell the house to strangers, so Angie and her first husband purchased the home.
The couple attempted to return the home to its Prairie roots.
“We sandblasted the white paint off the Roman brick fireplace and recreated the original inglenook,” she says. “At the time we split up, I had four children. I later married Tom Poulos, and we had two more children together. We raised six kids here. It is a very workable house.”
Angie and Tom continued to renovate the home according to its original style.
“Tom and I remodeled the kitchen and tried very hard not to put anything in it that would fight with the Prairie Style,” she says. “We used Amish cabinets and cork floors.
“It’s my opinion that Frank Lloyd Wright would use materials that were environmentally friendly, so we tried to do the same.”
The kitchen includes a professional Viking stove and hood as well as double work sinks, but Poulos was careful to keep the scale in check with the rest of the home. A screened-in porch addition opens up the deep backyard to the kitchen.
At the front of the home, they also brought the outdoors in by creating a family room out of a former porch. With windows on three sides overlooking the landscape, it can be enjoyed throughout the seasons.
Poulos notes, “This house is one of the few Prairie houses in the area that has actual prairie landscaping.”
Now that their children are grown, Angie and Tom, a broker with Prudential Premier Realty, are listing the house for $839,900.
“Without the kids, we just don’t need a five-bedroom house anymore,” she says. “We hope that someone will buy the home who will respect and understand it, someone younger with more energy. My hope is that kids will grow up here. It’s a great house to grow up in.”