In Oak Park and River Forest real estate parlance, when a home is designated as being located in the “estate section,” it generally means three things: a large house, the lot will be larger than standard, and the property is surrounded by similar homes. While the exact neighborhood boundaries may vary — with the occasional 1970s ranch thrown into the neighborhood mix — in general, an estate section label is a signal that it doesn’t get much better, or at least bigger, than this.
A home on the market in River Forest for $3,495,000 not only wears the estate section tag with pride but also helps redefine an “estate home” in modern times. When 1005 Park Ave. was designed in 1933 by the Buurma Brothers, an estate included gracious living areas and designated servant areas, such as the kitchen and maids quarters, that were rarely seen by the owners of the home. Today, most families don’t have live-in servants and frequently dine in their own kitchens, necessitating a reworking of the estate concept.
Owners John and Maureen Cox purchased the home in 2008 from a longtime owner and set about modernizing the home to make it more amenable to how families live today.
In the 1880s Edward Waller moved to River Forest from Chicago and purchased much of the land that would become known as the Northwoods Subdivision. Bounded by Thatcher, Division, Lathrop and Chicago, the area later was designated River Forest’s estate section.
In the 1920s, Waller decided to develop the roughly 100-acre parcel, and, according to historical research conducted on River Forest by the Lakota Group, Waller exercised tight control over the sale of parcels of land, in order to retain the exclusive nature of the subdivision, allowing some estates of half a block each and laying out others with 200 feet of frontage.
Lambertus, Hilbrand and Egbert Buurma came to the River Forest area from Holland around 1905, at first working as apprentice carpenters. In 1917, they formed their own construction company, building the first Buurma Brothers homes in River Forest on Jackson, William and Monroe streets in 1918. The brothers did not have formal architectural training, and many of their homes were designed by staff architects or consulting architects.
In 1928, the Buurma brothers purchased 2,100 feet of frontage in Waller’s Northwoods Subdivision. Here the brothers constructed homes of varying designs from Swiss Chalet and Colonial Revival to English Tudor.
At 1105 Park Avenue, they constructed an English Tudor-style home on a 200 x 188-foot lot.
When the Cox family purchased the home in 2008, they were looking for a space to raise their triplets, and the home offered plenty of room but was in need of a bit of rethinking. John Cox noted that the longtime owner had kept the house in good condition, but it needed updates to bring it into the 21st century.
“It was maintained but needed to be updated,” he recalled. “We basically did a little bit of everything from electrical and plumbing to an addition. We tried to keep the integrity of the home and make the addition look like it had always been here.”
In the more formal rooms of the home, including a foyer with a sweeping, curved staircase, the original living room, and the dining room, the Coxes primarily kept the changes understated. They refinished original hardwood floors, revamped the electrical system with period-appropriate light fixtures and added heated flooring and insulation to a sun room. In the front office, they preserved the original cherry wood paneling.
At the rear of the house, they created an addition and reworked the side entry to make the space more practical for their family. The original kitchen was a small room intended for servants to use, with multiple doors providing access to the butler’s pantry and a side entrance for deliveries as well as a back staircase to the servants’ quarters.
With the help of their contractors, they turned the original kitchen into a spacious mudroom and laundry room. They added a new kitchen, breakfast room and family room to the back end. With custom Amish cabinetry, a built-in refrigerator with cabinet fronts, and beamed ceilings, they took pains to make the kitchen fit the look of the 1930s home.
On the upstairs, they also reworked the floor plan with an eye toward family living. The original master suite was turned into a shared bedroom for their two daughters. The daughters’ room and their son’s room both include their own private, remodeled bathrooms, and two guest bedrooms share a Jack-and-Jill bathroom.
The former maids’ quarters at the rear of the home were repositioned as an upstairs laundry room and large closet. Over the kitchen and family room addition, the Coxes constructed a new master suite with a private balcony, his-and-hers closets and luxurious bathroom.
Third floor space was finished as a rec-room for the children, and the basement is also finished with a custom bar, mini-kitchen, and workout room.
Kelly O’Brien, John’s sister and a real estate agent with Gloor Realty, is listing the home for the couple and noted that the five-bedroom abode is right for someone looking to move from Chicago who wants more space.
“The house really is in turn-key condition,” she said. “They did everything. The home sits on roughly four lots, which makes it probably in the top five in terms of lot size in River Forest. Compared to what this price point would get you in the city, you can get a lot more property for the money here.”
While the changes he and his wife made to the home make it move-in ready for the next family to live here, John Cox noted that much of the home’s appeal lies in the craftsmanship from an earlier era.
“They just don’t make houses like this anymore.”