When his clients first approached Mark Meagher about building them a new home, he knew they were looking for something of a unicorn in Oak Park. They had seen some of the new-construction homes built by his company, Maher Development, in the south side of the village and wanted something similar in a different location.
This couple, who are both professors in the city and were combining their two families, wanted lots of space, a large lot and a close to town location in an historic district.
“We wanted a bigger lot because we garden a lot, and we have a big dog. And two teenagers still in the house,” one of the homeowners said.
Meagher knew that it would be hard to find a lot to suit their needs in Oak Park. He states.
“They wanted a bigger lot, and I found this house on Harvey [Avenue in Oak Park],” Meagher said. “It was a bit of an anomaly to find something in a historic district that wasn’t conforming.”
Because the house was not contributing to the historic district and was ripe for renovation, Meagher was able to tear down the existing house to build the house of his clients’ dreams.
From the street, the wood frame house looks much like a typical Oak Park four-square home but a bit taller and a bit wider than an older home.
Meagher is known for his fresh take on new home building. He takes elements of historic homes’ exteriors to blend in with the neighborhood but builds houses that are typically bigger and more modern on the inside than older homes.
“I tried to use the details of older homes, like the big overhangs and other details that you might see on a Gunderson or E.E. Roberts home,” Meagher said. “They’re sort of transitional and not too ornate.”
The front porch of the new home has a stained-wood ceiling and traditional columns, and the house is a dark color that reads black or navy, a shade that Meagher says could be seen as historic or modern.
While the exterior fits right in on a block filled with early 20th-century homes, the inside was carefully crafted to live a more modern life. There are five bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms. The primary suite includes his and hers closets.
The couple wanted lots of windows, and Meagher accommodated them at the rear of the house. He created a wall of windows to form the mudroom, allowing them to view their yard.
“I tried to make the mudroom look like an addition,” Meagher said. “They wanted a lot of windows, and I was on board with that.
“It looks like a lantern when it’s all lit up at night.”
Building a home from scratch during the pandemic was not without its challenges.
“It was our first time building a house,” the homeowner said. “There was a big learning curve.”
Meagher admits that it was stressful on him, too, especially because it was a struggle to get labor and materials during the pandemic.
In the end, Meagher seems to have met his goal of building something that met his clients’ needs while blending the home into the neighborhood. He recently learned that the house won the Residential New Construction Award for 2022 in the village’s annual Historic Preservation Awards.
Susie Trexler, urban planner with the village, summed up the committee’s opinion of the house:
“The awards panel was pleased to see a new house that took account of the surrounding historic neighborhood. The design of 318 S. Harvey Ave. draws on the American Foursquare, a house form characteristic of Oak Park’s historic districts and rooted in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style.
“The house also takes note of the wide front porches with narrow baluster spacing that are common in Oak Park. These references help it fit nicely into the historic street while still being a modern home.”