New home, historic block

Landmark block lined with Prairie School houses gets new neighbor

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

The 700 block of William Street in River Forest received honorary village designation in 2016 when it was recognized at the first planned development of Prairie Style homes. 

Neighbors sought the designation, and the block was the subject of a 2014 book by William Storrer, Richard Johnson and Dominique Watts proposing that the homes were Frank Lloyd Wright designs. 

All of the homes were built between 1915 and 1917 by local builder Henry Hogan, but the Wright connection has not been proven.

In August 2017, when local firm Mayborn Development purchased the home at 747 William St., partners Rob Sarvis and Mark Sullivan originally intended to rehabilitate the home, as they had done with previous projects in the village.

After a structural engineer determined that the house was not structurally sound, the pair changed their minds and decided their best course of action was to tear the house down and build new. 

Their idea was met with disapproval from historic preservation advocates, but the River Forest village ordinances do prohibit the demolition of homes, even notable ones.

Sullivan said that at the end of the day, the River Forest Historical Preservation Commission chose to delay the demolition by six months, which slowed down their timeline for building the new house. 

He said that while the block is significant, that individual home was not, and says he and Sarvis were also victims of bad timing. 

"We came in on the back end of the Mars deal, which had a lot of people upset," he said, referring to the 2015 demolition of the historic Mars Mansion on Ashland Avenue.

From the beginning, Sullivan and Sarvis, who live in River Forest, intended to build a home that fit in aesthetically with the neighborhood and the village. 

Their realtor Andy Gagliardo, who is listing the new home for $1.375 million, said, "They knew what they were in for. They knew they couldn't do a Naperville-style home here."

Working with Oak Park-based architect Pat Magner, they set out to design a house that would fit in with the streetscape but also offer amenities that young families are looking for in homes today.

"From day one, I was pretty clear that I was going to build something that fit in with the neighborhood and the style of the block," Sarvis said. "The house has elements of all of the home on the block."

In setback from the street and scale, the home blends in with its older neighbors. On the interior, Sullivan and Sarvis combined traditional elements with modern amenities in taking what was roughly a 2,000 square-foot home with three bedrooms and one full bathroom and turning it into a 3,700 square-foot home with four bedrooms and four full bathrooms.

A formal living room and dining room lead to a kitchen which is open on one side to a family room and on the other to a mudroom leading out to the backyard. The developers said that families today are looking for details such as open floor plans, mudrooms and a casual family room in their homes. 

Sarvis says they purposefully chose not to make the first floor one completely open space. 

"It still has definition of rooms but it's very open and flows," he said. "We tried to keep a traditional feel with some modern touches throughout the house."

A traditional-style staircase between the first floor, basement and second floor is capped with wood but has stainless-steel balusters. On the second floor, three small bedrooms that shared a hall bath were replaced with one en-suite bedroom with its own full bathroom, two more bedrooms sharing a hall bath, and a new master suite on the back of the house.

The master suite includes a large bathroom with heated flooring, two sinks and a separate bathtub and shower. A walk-in closet provides a great deal of storage. 

Gagliardo says that closets like these may be one of the biggest selling points of new construction. 

"The biggest thing new construction has that old house don't is large closets," he said.

He thinks that houses like this are popular with young families moving to the suburbs from the city. 

"A lot of these buyers might be coming from condos or townhouses that are completely new with big bathrooms and closets," Gagliardo said. "People want new construction, and we don't have a lot of that here."

There are a number of smaller details that make a big difference when buying new. Gagliardo points out that new hardwood floors don't squeak, and the finished basement speaks for itself. With full-height ceilings, closets, a full bathroom and walk-out access to the backyard, the basement is one of those amenities that can be impossible to add to an older home.

Sarvis says that although the initial process was challenging, the house itself lived up to their expectations. 

"I think we've created something very positive for the neighborhood," Sarvis said. "At the end of the day, people are happy with it."

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