A slice of Italy: From its lion's head door knocker to its intricately carved limestone floors, 846 Bonnie Brae is not your average River Forest home.Photos courtesy Baird & Warner

If the pair of lions guarding the staircase up to the concrete porch doesn’t tip you off, maybe the limestone friezes or old-world ironwork will make the case that 846 Bonnie Brae Place is not your average suburban home. From the outside, the 1925 Burma-built estate has more in common with a European villa than a typical River Forest home, and the Mediterranean style continues in the interior.

Italian influence

While Burma homes are a dime a dozen throughout River Forest, this home stands apart, possibly due to the influence of the original owners. Biaggio and Maddalena Alfini were born in Italy and raised their three children in Illinois. The current homeowner, who prefers not to be named in this story, notes that Biaggio’s career likely played a large role in the home’s construction.

“Biaggio was a limestone cutter. I imagine that he must have had some role in the home’s construction as there is limestone used throughout the home, in two fireplaces, in the columns separating the living room from the foyer, around the exterior windows, and in banding around the house.”

At the home’s entrance, a deep porch, offset with columned rails, frames the original front door that displays a large lion-head door knocker. The intricately carved limestone surrounding the door features a pattern of leaves and birds, and limestone friezes of shields with a fleur delis motif decorate the front windows.

Personal history

The homeowner notes that some interesting families have called the house home over the years.

“When you travel to the city on the el, you can see Alfini’s limestone work on the friezes of many buildings of a certain era. The Buffardi family who lived in the house in the 1940s and ’50s were known as candy makers in the Western Suburbs.

“The wife of the family who lived in the home in the 1970s, was known to be a bit idiosyncratic. Legend has it that she was French, loved to play tennis at the Oak Park Club in long flowing white dresses and perhaps used to touch a bit of the sauce. When I renovated the attic, I found many old liquor bottles hidden on top of the cedar closet up there.”

The bottles are now kept on display in the basement bar area as a reminder of the home’s past. Architectural details throughout the home keep much of the history alive.

Unique architecture

The two-story entrance foyer features terrazzo floors and Italian plastering in a palm leaf design. Four sets of what are likely original sconces flank the walls in-between leaded glass arched windows. Original doors throughout the home feature inlaid wood borders and crystal doorknobs.

According to the homeowner, the iron work throughout the home is another key to the home’s original style.

“From the Juliet balconies on the front windows, to the staircases, both up to the second floor and down to the basement, the iron work follows the same pattern. In later years, when the fence was added, they went with the same pattern, and when we finished the attic, we included the ironwork on the third floor staircase as well. There has been a consistency down the line.”

The Pezzuto family who owned the home prior to the current owners installed a brand new kitchen that looks out onto the carefully manicured lawn and patio.

The garage, like the rest of the house, has an interesting past. When the Buffardi family installed a pool in the 1950s, they also rebuilt the garage. Although a subsequent owner later removed the pool, the garage still stands and has doors that open on three sides. With plumbing, hot water, electricity and a phone line, the garage could be used as a pool house when the cars were removed.

As the Pezzutos redid the kitchen, they installed the home’s former kitchen in the basement. With that full kitchen, a bathroom and a mudroom, they used the basement for nanny quarters. The current owners use the basement den with a second limestone fireplace and bar area for entertaining and watching movies.

Up the stairway to the second floor, large arched fresco paintings evoke a European sensibility. According to the homeowner, one painting reflects the children of the previous owners, while another is a take on Botticelli’s Primavera.

On the second floor, three bedrooms share a hall bath that harkens back to the home’s construction. With a pedestal sink, large cast iron tub, subway-tiled walls and intricate Greek key patterned tile floor, the bathroom has been maintained in pristine condition with features often mimicked by today’s high-end bath designers.

The spacious master suite boasts a newly remodeled bathroom. In keeping with the home’s personality, the homeowners chose marble details for this room, which includes a separate, glass-walled shower, soaking tub and two sinks in built-in custom cabinetry. The suite also includes a former attached nursery turned dressing room, and doors lead out to a private veranda overlooking mature trees.

With a combined five children and 10 grandchildren, the current owners decided to renovate the attic space into livable space. While the original cedar closet and storage areas remain, they created a sleeping area, full bathroom and exercise room on the top floor of the home.

Ready for another generation

Gary Salem, who is listing the home for Baird and Warner at $1.195 million, notes that the technical square footage is over 5,000.

“If you included bathrooms and halls and basement space, the actual livable square footage would be roughly 7,000 square feet over the four floors. This is just a magnificent house.”

While the current owner has delighted in being the caretaker of the home and preparing it for the next generation of owners, he acknowledges that it is time to pass it along to the right people. “It’s more space than two senior citizens need, but we have loved this house. At times, we’ve entertained 50 or 60 people here for dinners.”

“On nice nights, the two of us often sit outside to eat dinner,” he says. “We planted some roses that belonged to my wife’s grandmother, and you can see them climb up the wall right by the patio.”

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