The home at 1223 Franklin Ave. in River Forest (above) was built in 1954 and retains much of its original mid-century modern design, from the open floor plan (below) with its fireplace and built-in shelving. (VHT Studios)

In an area in which historic architecture is prized, the mid-century modern home doesn’t always get its fair share of respect. Instead of decorative flourishes such as turrets, moldings or brightly colored wood siding which draw many to the Victorian homes of the past, mid-century modern homes boast a more subdued calling card. 

One of a distinctive pair of such homes on Franklin Avenue in River Forest recently hit the market, and its original details and thoughtful updates show why this style is worth a second look.

In America, the mid-century modern style was heavily influenced by European architects leaving the continent in the wake of World War II. Frank Lloyd Wright also played a role in the popularization of the style, which peaked from 1945 to 1964.

Many mid-century modern homes were designed as one-story ranch houses, a departure from the two- and three-story homes of the past. Construction relied on new materials with an industrial feel such as aluminum, steel and concrete. New post and beam construction allowed for the first open floor plans in residential architecture, and large windows and doors brought the outdoors in.

The home at 1223 Franklin Ave. is an example of a shed-style mid-century modern house. It and its next-door neighbor at 1227 Franklin Ave. are mirror-image homes.  Their brick and stone façades feature swooping roofs over large-paned windows. 

Built in 1954, the homes were designed by architect Harold Croft and built by his father Sam Croft. Real estate agent T.R. Youngblood, of @properties, who is listing 1223 Franklin Ave. for $875,000, says legend had it that 1223 and 1227 were built for friends who shared a six-flat in Chicago but decamped to the suburbs for more space and quiet. 

The homes were purported to have been used in a Wrigley’s Doublemint gum commercial because of their identical, mirror-image exteriors. Youngblood says the rumor has been debunked but notes the two houses are twin-like.

Homeowner Katie Struck has spent the past five years restoring and updating 1223 Franklin Ave. and approached each project with the intention to respect the home’s past. In the entryway, she chose to retain many of the home’s original features, including the front door with the distinctive star-shaped door knob surround. Original stone floors prove a weather-hardy entry surface, and a curved wall lined in mirrors brings in a bit of “Mad Men”-era glamour. 

“I’m excited when anyone appreciates the architecture and the vibe of the original house,” Struck said.

In the living areas of the home, she remodeled with a light touch. Out went the popcorn ceilings, and in went hardwood flooring. She opened up a den off the living room, keeping the original fireplace and built-in shelving but bringing in more light and a better flow with the rest of the house. 

The home was built for entertaining and Struck says the original layout makes it easy to host a crowd. The living room and dining room flow seamlessly together, with large windows out to the side entrance. 

The kitchen area received some of the more serious updates. Struck thinks she and her family may be only the third or fourth owners of the house and says the tenets of mid-20th century kitchen design did not translate well to the 21st century.

“There were soffits everywhere, and it was dark and closed off,” she says of the space. The kitchen was gutted to make way for all new electrical and mechanicals. Custom blue cabinetry, a marble backsplash and island are in keeping with the mid-century feel. The new space opens into the dining room and the re-worked rear entry with its mudroom and laundry room.

Each of the home’s bathrooms was also completely remodeled in a modern style that complements the original home. The two children’s bedrooms were gutted to update flooring, electrical work and details such as the closet doors. These two bedrooms share a full bathroom with a bathtub and shower combination and marble tile with brass hardware. 

The primary suite includes a newly remodeled en suite bathroom, and the powder room for guests has been completely redone with a graphic wallpaper that is in keeping with the era of the home.

While the home offers all the hallmarks of ranch-house living — namely, the kitchens, living room and main bedrooms on the first floor — the basement holds more in store. Struck said the below-grade space had time-worn linoleum flooring with a built-in shuffleboard game when she bought the home.

She gutted the basement, creating several entertainment spaces with all new flooring. She restored the original bar and added a sink and wine cooler. A half bathroom was updated and a fourth bedroom makes a great space for guests.

Youngblood says ranch-style living appeals to a lot of potential buyers these days. 

“There are not a lot of ranch homes on the market locally right now,” he said. “When you see over 2,700 square feet of living on one floor, with that finished basement adding even more, it appeals to so many people.”

Praising Struck for honoring the original while updating all aspects of the home, Youngblood points out that she went so far as to regrade the backyard and add a drainage system to create safe, livable space indoors and out.

 “With all the work she’s done, it’s as close as you can get to new construction with that vintage quality and character,” Youngblood said.

Struck’s job is taking the family away from the Chicago area just as their renovations to the home are complete, and she is sad to see the labor of love go. She says that living on the same block as Willard School, was a great location for her children. 

“I really love ranch house living,” Struck said. “It’s been a really good house.”

Oak Park development an award finalist

On Aug. 16, AIA Chicago, the second largest chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the collective voice of 4,000 licensed architects, emerging professionals, architecture students and allied professionals, announced finalists for its signature architectural design award program, which honors the global design achievements of Chicago architects.

Included among the finalists is Oak Park’s The 801, an affordable housing apartment building at 801 S. Oak Park Ave. that is the collaboration of DesignBridge, Ltd. and The Community Builders.

Winners will be announced on Sept. 12 at Pritzker Pavilion during Designnight 2022, AIA Chicago’s first free and public architecture celebration. The recipients of each award tier will be presented with either an Honor Award or a Citation of Merit Award. 

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