I was somewhat chagrined to learn, in the June 21 edition of Wednesday Journal, that Cheney mansion will get a makeover next year by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). I still remember 20 years ago when the ASID first worked over the legendary mansion. I wrote a lengthy critique for the Journal on Sept. 24, 1986. It was not one of their better showcases!
It was billed as "Elizabeth Cheney Revisited." There were many pluses, however. A reincarnated Miss Cheney probably would have been pleased to see some of her favorite antiques showcased in Oriental décor. She might have been gratified at the ample use of her beloved pastel colors. Maybe she would have liked the hand-painted vines and flowers sprawling up the walls of the staircase.
But what about the fake ferns in her footbath? Or the black wallpaper in her private bathroom? Or the rug that glowed like a landing strip at O'Hare.
Remember, this is a palatial 32-room complex, designed in 1913 by the noted architect Charles E. White, Jr. in a simplified rectilinear design of first rank in architectural quality and significance. The mansion has eight bathrooms, a greenhouse and a coachouse on 2˝ acres at 220 N. Euclid Ave.
But it was the treatment of the library that really was a sacrilege. Elizabeth Cheney revered books. She had a private collection of 1,300. The original library had dark wood-paneled walls, leather-like wall-covering, and tile fireplace bricks. But the ASID decorator "modernized" with chintz fabric in yellow, dark green and shrimp, painted the wall-covering and tiles and hung a distracting modern painting. The room was due more respect.
There appeared to be no overall coordination, no unified motif. I was pleased to read that next year's Cheney Showcase will have an independent design team headed by a designer from the Oak Park-River forest community. That designer will then bring in a team of designers and trade persons. Each designer will be assigned to a different room according to her preference and the merit of the design. This sounds like an excellent alternative, assuring that the team will have experienced dedicated designers, with respect for history and the heritage of this local historic landmark.