Just what kind of house does an architect living in a village famous for residential architectural history choose for himself? When Wednesday Journal Architecture critic Garret Eakin and his artist wife, Lois, were looking for a house in Oak Park 27 years ago, design played a role in their choice, but so did practicality.

Rather than seeking out a Frank Lloyd Wright original or the work of one of Wright’s noted contemporaries, the Eakins discovered their dream house in a 1940’s French Provincial-style house without a known architect. Eakin calls the lannon stone house a very unique French eclectic style, and the light-filled interior created an excellent atmosphere to work in and raise a family. With their three children now out on their own, the Eakins are looking for a smaller nest to call home, and they hope another family will soon enjoy the house as much as they did.

1940s style still works

The home’s construction date of 1941 might scream “retro” to the uninitiated, but in a village like Oak Park where homes are often much older, that ’40s style comes with a lot of modern amenities. It was one of the first homes in the area to have central air and heating which makes for a comfortable space year-round. 

On the first floor, the Eakins rehabbed the kitchen for more modern tastes and updated the bathrooms but found little need to change the floor plan of the house. The layout of the home maximized sun exposure with a breakfast room, living room and family room receiving light from multiple exposures.

Upstairs, the original master bedroom suite is another modern accessory prized by today’s home buyers but rarely found in older homes. Eakin said the layout wasn’t easy to find when they were looking for a home. 

“It’s quite unique because it’s set up as a suite,” he noted. “You never find that in an older home.” 

The Eakins updated their bathroom with a new shower and sink fixtures and added mirrored cabinetry to visually expand the room, as well as installing new marble counters. His and her walk-in closets complete the space.

Preparing for sale

The Eakins were able to draw on their experience in the arts and architecture when preparing their house for the real estate market. Garret said his life’s work was a good window into what people are looking for in a home.

“We’ve developed, built and sold dozens of properties on the North Shore,” he said. “High quality, creative design and appropriate pricing are paramount to prepare a property for the market. The selections, such as tile, colors and equipment should be neutral and tastefully coordinated to accommodate most tastes.”

Knowing that the exterior of the home is the first thing potential buyers see, the Eakins undertook many projects with an eye toward increasing curb appeal. They installed a new concrete driveway and a front flagstone patio and entrance porch. They also kept up on routine maintenance with the stone work and paint, and hired landscapers to keep the yard looking its best.

Garret credits Lois with doing the lion’s share of the work in preparing the house for sale, but says they weren’t above asking for help from a key demographic: their daughter, whom they enlisted to help declutter and stage the home. 

“She represented the target market we were expecting would be interested in the home,” he said.

Romance

When they first bought the home, the Eakins may have been drawn in by the practical use of space, the great light and the subtle French detail on the living room fireplace, but their realtor, Steve Scheuring of Baird & Warner, says there is an appeal to the house that can’t really be pinned down and he appreciated working with clients who possess a heightened sense of design and place.

“This house has something we rarely see and when we see it, it’s great,” Scheuring said. “We may not have an exact word for 1000 Woodbine yet, but if we did, it would be ‘romance.’ There’s the soft light and the French architecture that creates a nice warmth. You sit in the house anytime of the year, and the light is everywhere. That master bedroom — you don’t have to leave all day. It’s not huge, it’s not fancy, it’s just warm.”

Scheuring said the romantic quality helped to sell the house, but admitted that, as a seasoned realtor, he markets a property with other considerations in mind as well.

“When I’m valuing a house,” he said, “I look for four things: air conditioning, first-floor family rooms, a master bedroom bath, and a nice, newer kitchen. If I remove any of these, the price is lowered and if it has all four, the price will be higher.”

Scheuring tapped into the Eakins’ natural skills when deciding how to market the house, and even with 16 years of experience, pairing up with such an established architect made for a unique sales situation.

“Architects, interior designers and people who are in marketing as a profession are clients that certainly keep you on your toes when selling their homes, only for the reason that you are a little more sensitive to their knowledge. Now someone like Garret, I have to admit, made me a little nervous. I mean it’s Garret Eakin for crying out loud! He knows everything.”

Luckily, Garret’s calm demeanor instantly put Scheuring at ease, and the two collaborated on deciding which photos for the listing would best convey the home’s character. A talented photographer, Scheuring said that working with an established artist like Lois Eakin also made him keenly aware of the need to capture the home in its best light.

“Luckily, Lois’ perspective in her beautiful paintings and my photography both try to induce emotion and are very similar. We both use depth of field to get across what we are trying to express. In photography, it’s often referred to as Bokeh — the pleasing quality of the blur in the out-of-focus portions of a subject photograph.”

Within weeks of hitting the market, the Eakin home was under contract to its next owners, and the Eakins are looking for a smaller, move-in-ready home for the next stage of their lives.

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