Quintessential Oak Park

Architecture, history and a front porch

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Architect E.E. Roberts was born in Boston, but he left his mark on the Midwest after moving to Chicago in 1888, where he worked for a time as a site superintendent for the construction of what is now the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago.

He moved to Oak Park in 1893 and established his architecture practice around the same time his contemporary Frank Lloyd Wright was active in the village. He designed more than 200 houses in Oak Park, and while he moved his office to Chicago in 1912, he and his wife lived in Oak Park until his death in 1943.

One of Robert's Oak Park designs, 401 N. Cuyler Ave., recently hit the market, and the home is representative of his style as well as the architecture that makes Oak Park a suburb unlike any other. 

Known as the Mrs. M.A. Guy House, 401 N. Cuyler Ave. is definitely a bungalow, but it also shows signs of several other architectural styles. The house was constructed by local contractor M.A. Guy, as his personal residence. Guy, along with his partner McClintock, built many of the area's prominent homes for architects such as Roberts and Tallmadge and Watson.

Baird and Warner realtor Mary Carlin, who is listing the house for $749,000, says of the home, "It is a bungalow, and it has some Prairie Style influences, but it also has some Tudor Revival details like the banding on the front. It's a cool combination of features."

She says Roberts was an architect who can't be pigeonholed into one style. 

"We always think of our architects as doing only one thing, but they were really just products of their times," Carlin said. "Here in Oak Park, we see a lot of homes that Frank Lloyd Wright remodeled, but this one was designed by Roberts from the very beginning."

The house dates to 1910 and retains a number of original features that speak to the home's history. The brick work on the front porch is laid in an intricate pattern, detailed with abalone tiles. The brick and tile motifs are repeated in both the exterior of the home and in the living room's original fireplace surround.

The living room has a coffered ceiling with wood trim, and the dining room also has a coffered ceiling and an original built-in serving buffet.

Carlin said that when her clients purchased the home about 15 years ago, the home was in need of restoration. But, luckily, the previous owners had not removed the original features. 

She recalls that two sisters lived in the home previously and mostly kept to the first floor. That might have saved one of the home's most unique features. A second-floor playroom featuring an original hand-painted mural similar to the one adorning the playroom in Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio.

"My clients kept it as a game room, but this space could easily be converted to a second-floor master suite," Carlin said.

Currently, the master bedroom is on the first floor of the home and, along with a family room and side rear porch, provides a lot of options to spread out. The clients renovated the kitchen area, keeping the original butler's pantry. The new kitchen features Amish oak cabinets. 

"They kept the original butler's pantry and the closet pantry," Carlin said. "They didn't blow out walls. The kitchen really fits the house."

Bungalows live large according to Carlin. 

"Like a lot of old houses, this has a great first floor flow and good entertaining spaces," she said. "They've had parties here with 100 people, but it also works really well when it's just two people at home."

At roughly 3,000 square feet, there is plenty of room above ground, and Carlin notes the unfinished basement provides a world of possibilities for new living space with no need for an addition.

The pandemic summer has highlighted Oak Park's appeal for buyers coming from the city, according to Carlin. Instead of waiting until their kids hit school age, many young families have moved up their home-buying timeline. 

"If we're going to be home, and we're going to be home a lot longer, a condo can feel claustrophobic," Carlin said. "Who wants to be stuck in a small space with toddlers?"

She also stresses that Oak Park's location close to the city and with walkable neighborhoods is always a selling point.

"People coming to Oak Park are mostly coming from the city," Carlin said. "It's so important to them to be able to walk places. Here, you can walk to the schools, the farmers market and the Green Line."

The village's charming neighborhoods with historic homes also are appealing to buyers, according to the realtor.

"This part of Oak Park is just great because you've got every house style you can imagine," Carlin said. "On top of that, this is just one of those houses that is universally beloved. When we were taking pictures for the listing, people walked by and said, 'I love this house so much.' They can't help but comment. It's got such a friendly appearance with that great porch on the front."

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