Frank Lloyd Wright house not an easy sell
The biggest change to the exterior of a Frank Lloyd Wrikghjt home soon to undergo renovations is the removal of dense shrubbery that hid it for decades. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 12, 2012 11:00AM
GLENCOE — The price of the 1,700 square-foot Frank Lloyd Wright house kept dropping, the salesman said, because the renovations to make it livable were just too much.
Among the drawbacks he listed were relatively tiny bedrooms, hallways, kitchen and bathroom. That, however, does not bother Maggie Hein much at all.
Unlike most people who’ve purchased similarly small 1915 planned-for-rental Wright homes in Glencoe, she intends to move one interior wall one foot. That’s it.
She could completely gut the inside of the 272 Sylvan Road house if she wanted to, and still get a Cook County landmarks tax freeze, as long as she was gentle with the outside.
“This is no big deal to me,” Hein said Oct. 4.
“I’ve been living in an apartment on the West Side of Chicago.”
She owns a six-flat there, and says it will be a combined culture shock and relief to move to the suburbs.
“I’m tired of the car break-ins, the garage break-ins, the home break-ins,” she said. “You just get tired of the relentless drama of everyday life.”
The one-foot wall shift will allow a second bathroom, and a bit more room in the first. Now, she’d be in danger of falling backward into the bathtub whenever she’d approach the sink.
Despite the slight expansion, she and Glencoe architect Scott Javore will render the old bathroom more Wrightian than it is now. They’ll restore its old door onto the verandah, and scrap the 1950s two-station sink in favor of a pedestal model, like the original.
Hein, a partner in a Northfield accountancy, paid about $500,000 for a home that started at $700,000, even then a fraction of what Wright homes typically go for. The relatively low price and the lack of major alterations does not mean she won’t have to dig deep.
There’s lots to fix.
One problem area became apparent when an inspector realized that the musty smell was not a natural expression of age.
“It was leaking natural gas,” Hein said. “All the gas is turned off now.”
Hard to say just where it was leaking, Javore said. That system will be replaced, as well as all of the plumbing and wiring, which is probably knob and tube, Javore said.
That old-fashioned wiring system, of rubber-coated wires held away from in-wall surfaces by porcelain knobs, and threaded through tubes when passing through joists, begs to be replaced wherever it’s found: if you keep it, it’s hard to get fire insurance.
Most of the bathroom fixtures and kitchen appliances will go, too. They’re generations old, but not original.
The one part of the house that was significantly changed by previous owners — a sun porch that was later enclosed — will get big casement windows to let the sun back in.
Hein has already made what will be the most visible change. The two giant fir trees that hid her house from Sylvan Road have been cut down, as well as the front yard’s “man-eating shrubs,” Javore said.
The stucco will be restored, as well as much of the woodwork, bringing back its long-ago look, Javore said.
“This is a great house,” he said as he fondled the front door, with its slitty, offset panes of glass. “I’m kind of intimidated to work on a house designed by this guy.
“You don’t make a lot of changes, especially when you find something so pure.”