Susan and Scott Caudell bought their home on Kenilworth Avenue in Oak Park well aware that they had to tread carefully in remodeling it.
Built around 1869 and based on a design by William Coman, the Harrison P. Young House was remodeled in in 1895 by Frank Lloyd Wright. Originally a Queen Anne style home, Wright’s remodel added some precursors of his Prairie Style.
“[Wright] was a young man at the time,” Susan Caudell said. “The house is sort of a mix of where he was — with Victorian elements — and where he was going – with Prairie elements.”
Wright’s work on the house included moving the house back 16 feet on its lot, adding horizontal banded siding and constructing an addition that includes a wide front porch with overhanging eaves. Inside a fireplace and chimney were built with Wright’s signature Roman brick.
Before the Caudells bought the house, it was owned by Joan Mercuri, one-time president and CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, and the Caudells say Mercuri was a phenomenal steward of the home who laid the way for their renovation work with the late John Thorpe, an Oak Park architect whose work to preserve Wright’s Home & Studio became the standard for historic preservation.
The Caudells started with the front of the house where they restored the original windows and storm windows. They blew in sheep’s wool insulation from the inside and foam insulation from the outside to make the home more pleasant in all weather extremes.
They also tackled a lot of behind-the-scenes work, restoring plaster and building a new foundation for the main staircase. In the basement, they replaced tree trunks holding up the house with steel supports.
During the course of their work, Thorpe was guided by copies of Wright’s plans for his remodel of the house, which were found at Taliesin. Color changes to the home’s original plans helped Thorpe discern Wright’s changes, including details such as adding a wooden screen in the entry and bay windows in the dining and music rooms.
In the early 1900s after Wright’s remodel, part of the front porch was enclosed with glass to create a sun room, living room windows were replaced with doors to the front porch, and a powder room was added to a nook under the front stairs. Scott Caudell points out that the heavy sink bears a date stamp of 1904 and says the house was likely one of Oak Park’s first to have indoor plumbing.
At the back of the house, the Caudells transformed an old porch into a family room completely altered the way the family uses the house. It also set the stage for a larger renovation project.
“It was a porch when we moved in,” Susan Caudell said. “It was cold in winter and hot in summer. This is how our renovation started. We thought we’d just fix the porch.”
The floor-to-ceiling windows could be seen from the street and thus, were protected under historic guidelines, so they turned to Thorpe to help them make the room functional but still fit in with the history of the house.
“[Thorpe] really wanted to fix the back of the house,” Scott Caudell said. “He wanted it to be Victorian since the front was more Wright.”
Originally, the couple had no plans to renovate the galley kitchen, but after attending the Wright Plus housewalk, Susan says they decided they wanted the kitchen to match the rest of the house.
Working with Thorpe, they opened up the space, adding heated stone flooring, quarter-sawn oak cabinets and a large island. Between the eat-in area and the rear staircase, Thorpe added a screen of wooden spindles to match Wright’s screen in the front of the house.
During this remodel, the couple also added a mudroom, new back porch, covered stairs for the rear entry, an outdoor grilling station and blue stone patio. New custom doors match the originals.
Parts of the upstairs of the house were remodeled by Thorpe, working for Mercuri when she owned the house. A large bathroom with laundry was renovated in the primary suite.
The Caudells added closets to some of the bedrooms and reworked the rear servants’ quarters to create more bedroom space and bring the rear staircase up to code. A former sleeping porch was rebuilt and heated to transform into office space.
The third floor of the house has high ceilings beneath the home’s peaked, gabled roof and serves as a great family hang out space. The Caudells added a movie screen with surround sound and turned what was a third porch into an enclosed room that would make a great art studio or office.
The Caudells are ready for a new chapter in their lives, and recently listed the house with Anne Ferri and Kim Wojack of Baird and Warner for $1,495,000. But Susan says it will not be easy to say goodbye to the house their family has grown into.
“We’ve really lived in this house a lot. We love this house.”