Oak Park is home to many historic homes, and each one carries a different story from previous generations. Lucky homeowners often find clues to their home’s past, which can open up a window to other eras.
When the Mahoney family purchased their home on Linden Avenue in 2010, it was brimming with historical interest, and they were lucky enough to inherit some memorabilia from the early owners of the home that offered clues to its first inhabitants. Now as they prepare to move on, the Mahoneys have listed the home for $1,595,000 with Susan Maienza of Gagliardo Realty.
Built in 1909 for the sum of $14,000 for Anton Johnson, a furniture designer, 539 Linden’s Prairie-style design offers a glimpse into an earlier time period. Kathy Mahoney points out that the Johnson family had seven children when they moved into the home. “There are seven art-glass windows in the dining room along the south wall, with mom-and-dad windows at the end,” Mahoney noted. “Johnson was said to use the dining room as a showroom for his furniture.”
William Gibbs, who designed several CTA stations for the Ravenswood line, was the architect of the home. Kathy Mahoney says it is believed, but not proven, that Marion Mahoney, who designed art glass for Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the home’s many art-glass windows. According to Kathy, “As Mahoneys and fans of Marion’s work, we want to believe that as well.”
The dining room is paneled in rich, quarter-sawn oak wainscot. Above the wainscot, the original patterned silk tapestry wall covering remains in place. “At first I thought about replacing the silk,” Mahoney recalled, “but then I thought, ‘It’s part of the house and should remain here.'”
The room’s beamed ceiling and original light fixtures are also original, and with pocket doors that open to the living room, the space easily accommodates large gatherings. The pocket doors are faced with quarter-sawn oak on the dining room side to match that room’s woodwork, and mahogany on the other side to match the living-room woodwork. Throughout the home, the original wood is still in pristine, unpainted condition, adding warmth to all the rooms.
The home’s spacious entry is filled with historic charm. The room includes an original brick-patterned fireplace with inglenook seating on either side. Like many of the light fixtures throughout the room, the light fixtures flanking the entry door are original to the home. Once fueled by gas, the bronze fixtures with filigree shades now run on electricity.
The home’s library includes a wall of original, glass-fronted cabinets, and another original light fixture. The stunning wood staircase includes large art-glass windows on the landing as well as a built-in bench. The newel post on the stair rail is topped with another handsome light-fixture, but this one is not an original.
Mahoney says it shines a light on local lore. “There was an original Tiffany light fixture here. At some point during the home’s history, someone in the neighborhood supposedly took the fixture and sold it to finance a trip to the Caribbean.”
Like many significant homes of the era, this house had a distinct front and back delineation, reflecting a time when the kitchen was the domain of servants and the rear staircase led to maids’ quarters in the attic. The elegantly appointed front rooms for the public gave way to family-friendly spaces toward the back of the house.
A breakfast room provides a space for more casual meals than the stately dining room. One previous owner was a doctor, and Mahoney says he used the breakfast room as an office. A butler’s pantry connects the kitchen to the dining room. Left largely intact, the pantry still sports original floor-to-ceiling cabinetry and a galvanized-steel sink and drain board with plate warmers underneath. Original features have been adapted to modern times: Mahoney admits her kids love to use the plate warmers to warm mittens and hats in the winter.
The kitchen was updated by previous owners and includes made-on-site custom Amish cabinetry with glass fronts. A wall of windows in the kitchen provides great sight lines to the home’s sizeable yard. Mahoney notes that she and her husband added a patio to take advantage of the yard, but little else was required.
“I feel like the yard is magical,” she says. “There is a little pond with goldfish, and it’s so private. The previous owners were big gardeners, so the plantings are mature and just complement the home.”
The living spaces on the second and third floors also retain their historic charm while incorporating modern conveniences. A second floor hall is large enough to become a family room with a fireplace and seating area. Due to the octagonal shape of the facade, the front two bedrooms have interesting shapes and multiple windows.
Mahoney, who owns her own firm, Acorn Design, redesigned the children’s bathroom. “I kept some of the original subway tile on the walls. I redid the back wall with a tile pattern to mirror the Prairie style, added a restored claw-foot tub that was originally in the attic, and built a new stand-alone shower. The flooring is also new.”
The master suite includes a large walk-in closet, which probably once served as a nursery. A private master bathroom rounds out the space.
The third floor maids’ quarters have taken on a whole new life. Realtor Maienza notes that the attic makes the home even more tailored for families. “Everyone has their own space here,” she notes. “The ceiling height amazes me.”
This floor includes a bedroom, used currently as a play room, and a large open room currently used as a family room, complete with pool table and drum set. Another bedroom and full bath, redesigned by Mahoney, works for guests — or a teenager.
Mahoney is sure the home’s next owners will have their favorite features. While her designer’s eye appreciates all the interior amenities, she is also partial to one on the outside.
“The front porch is one of my favorite spots. It is so deep that you can host parties on it. With its deep eaves, it is such a wonderful place to be when it rains.”