Using history as a template

A new, traditional kitchen in a house built by beer

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

The Edward and Emma Stege House on South Elmwood Avenue in Oak Park was built in 1916 of sturdy red brick. Edward Stege, along with his two brothers, ran Chicago's E.R. Stege Brewing Company, which was founded by their father. 

Current owners Jennifer and Bob Hall learned a lot about the history of the Stege family through a book, which includes an entire chapter devoted to the family home at 307 S. Elmwood Ave. 

In that chapter, C.E. Stege recalls growing up in the house on Elmwood with his sister and three brothers. The home was built at a cost of $14,000 and provided years of enjoyment for the family. 

Stege recalled a prohibition basement with rooms for both wine and beer making. Another source of family fun was the laundry chute. Leading from the attic to the basement, the children often lowered smaller siblings down the chute on a rope.

When Jennifer and Bob Hall purchased the home 16 years ago, they fell in love with the stately interiors, which included detailed wood and plaster work. While most of the home retained the grand Georgian details that were originally designed for the Stege family, there was one part of the house that didn't fit in: the kitchen.

"It was a 1970s remodel, and it was small," said Bob Hall. "It's the only part of the home that was not historic."

When the couple was ready to tackle the project, they interviewed a handful of designers but didn't have to go far. They immediately loved the design ideas of kitchen designer Denise Hauser, who happens to live just a block away. The couple says Hauser was the designer who really understood the context of the project.

"Denise was great at picking up the historic details of the house," Bob said. "A lot of the others had their own models and dropped them into the house. Denise picked up on the details like the dark mahogany, the colors and even the inset molding in our dining room."

Jennifer chimed in, "The kitchen has all the modern amenities, but it almost feels original. The rest of the home is this beautiful, historic space, but the kitchen was so dinky. Denise really understood how to make this a reality. When you walk into the house now and get a view into the kitchen, it flows."

For Hauser, that is the highest compliment. 

"Some people have come in and asked if parts are original," Hauser said. "It really does blend in with the house."

For several years, Hauser said the trend in kitchens was leaning towards modern designs. She found fewer and fewer clients looking for kitchens that tied into their historic houses. Hauser, who lives in an old house herself, loved taking inspiration from the past for the Halls' project.

Designing in the formal style of the rest of the house, she combined the small kitchen, butler's pantry and a back porch to create a 20-by-20-foot kitchen that was inspired by a conservatory from the early 1900s.

The home's original mahogany woodwork inspired the high-gloss mahogany cabinets in the new kitchen. The 10-inch triple crown molding was made to match original moldings in the house, and an antique, brass pot rack adds a touch of history to the space.

Bob Hall points out that Hauser also utilized skilled craftsmen to recreate some old-world details. Original hand-etched glass from the front room was matched and copied into new glass in the kitchen.

While the design details speak to the home's history. Hauser says the house still lives well for a more modern family. 

"It feels like an original part of the house, but it's very modernized with its function," Hauser said. "There are two microwaves, one of them a steam microwave. The original kitchen wasn't meant to do what we do with kitchens today. Now, it really performs as an entertaining space."

Completed just before the pandemic, the new kitchen has been a great gathering spot for the Hall family. Jennifer Hall notes that their 11-year old daughter has taken the time at home to hone her cooking skills. For Hauser, creating a space where family can gather is always a priority.

She incorporated a 7-by-6-foot island in the space to foster family time, something she says everyone wants to focus on, whether their kitchen is modern or traditional. With so many people spending more time in their homes, Hauser thinks there will be an industry shift in kitchen design. 

"We are going to see a trend away from minimalism back to maximalism," Hauser said. "There will be more color and more decoration."

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