The story of the Victorian home at 210 Home Ave., known as the R.S. Thain House, is, in some ways, the quintessential story of Oak Park’s architecturally significant housing stock. 

A prominent local figure of the 19th or early 20th century hires a big-name architect to design a grand family home. The prominent figure passes away. Hard times hit Oak Park during the Great Depression and the grand family home is no longer so grand. Decades pass. An enterprising young family seeking room to grow purchases the building and returns it to its single-family-home glory.

While not all Oak Park homes fit the pattern, the Thain House is a success story for the historic preservation movement and for the enduring longevity of a well-designed home.

History

Built in 1892, the Queen Anne Victorian across the street from the Pleasant Home mansion was the home of R.S. Thain and his family. Thain, a Civil War veteran, worked in advertising in Chicago. When he died in the home, his obituary noted that he was “one of the best known, most highly respected and best beloved advertising men in the West.”

He worked in advertising in Chicago for 30 years, and counted Ladies’ Home Journal and Marshall Field as clients. 

Thain hired the Chicago architecture firm of Patton and Fisher to design the home for his wife and their five children. The duo are credited with the design of many Oak Park homes, as well as the Pilgrim Congregational Church and Scoville Block in Oak Park and Chicago institutions such as the Lincoln Park Zoo headquarters and the Armour Institute of Technology, now the Illinois Institute of Technology.

At the time the home was completed, it garnered a front-page story in the Forest Herald on Sept. 9, 1892. The article touts the first floor’s woodwork in bird’s eye maple, curly birch and quartered oak; the six bedrooms with bay windows; and the electric lighting and sanitary plumbing throughout. The home was expected to cost $11,000 to construct and decorate in 1892 dollars.

Changes

During the Depression, the house was subdivided into a three-flat, and it was in that state when the current owners purchased it in 1997. The couple, self-identified old-house lovers, were ready to take on a project, but might not have realized entirely what returning the structure to a single family home would entail. One benefit to restoring the three-flat was that they had a kitchen on each floor, so they could live on one floor while renovating another.

During their 19-year tenure, the owners gutted and restored the home from top to bottom, with the bulk of construction taking place between 2000 and 2003. They participated in a workshop for the Oak Park-River Forest Historical Society titled, “How to Restore Your Old House … Without Going Crazy,” and also opened up the home for the Parenthesis Kitchen Walk, the Oak Park Stained Glass Tour, and HGTV’s Restore American.

They survived the process (without going crazy) and raised three daughters in the home. Now looking to downsize, they have listed the home with Vickie Freund of @ properties for $1,350,000.

Victorian charm,
modern amenities

Throughout the restoration process, the owners, who prefer not to be named, took care to maintain original attributes such as the three original fireplaces and original woodwork, and took pains to return features that might have been removed during the home’s conversion to a three-flat. 

Quarter-sawn wood paneling in the entry was procured from Vermont to closely match the old-growth wood that would have been used during the 1892 construction. A salvaged pier mirror was installed in the entry, as were period-appropriate paint colors and wallpaper on the first floor.

Freund points out that the owners took care in every room to match the original style of the home. In showing off the first-floor full bathroom, she noted the homeowner’s choices in wallpaper and tile. 

“She matched the era of the home. They looked back to the era when it was built and did everything they could to make it fit in.”

One benefit to gutting the home was the ability to add attributes that modern homeowners are looking for, chief among them light and spaciousness. 

“It doesn’t feel like a traditional Victorian,” Freund said of the 4,700-plus-square-foot home. “The rooms are larger and more open.”

Another key to making the home livable for a contemporary family was a brand new kitchen by local designer Mark Menna. By combining several smaller rooms, the large kitchen now features high-end appliances from Sub Zero and Viking. A butler’s pantry includes a sizable pantry for storage was well as a wine refrigerator.

The second floor was completely reconfigured to meet the needs of a family. Freund again pointed to other features not found in a typical Victorian. 

“It is completely different from any Victorian I’ve seen. The bedrooms are huge and bright, with large closets, and there is laundry upstairs.”

Three children’s bedrooms share a spacious hall bathroom, and the master suite was created by combining a number of rooms at the front of the house. The master bedroom itself has a large bay window and an original fireplace. The master bathroom has been upgraded from typical Victorian-era amenities. Once another bedroom, the bathroom section of the master suite has a room for a vanity, a separate room for a soaking tub, a main bathroom boasting heated flooring, two large pedestal sinks, custom cabinetry and a steam shower with custom tilework. The suite also includes a walk-in, professionally-organized closet.

The third floor of the home, once a separate apartment, now includes a recreation room, room for two more bedrooms and roughed-in plumbing.

The spacious house is move-in ready and, according to Freund, offers the best of suburban living: a spacious yard and a location across the street from Mills Park and within walking distance to the CTA and Metra and all of downtown Oak Park.

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