Knock, knock

Peeking into area homes that make us dream and wonder as we pass them by.                

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July 2, 2009
Who lives in this well-guarded Queen Anne in Wicker Park?
 
Knock, knock . . .

Who’s there: Nick and Carol Sommers, Chico, their Havanese pup, and two cats, Sasha and Peaches.

Funny, I was drawn to this Queen Anne because of its warm mustard paint, meticulous detailing, leaded-glass windows and eyelet-trimmed curtains. It wasn’t until I was walking through the front gate that I spotted the huge cannon in the front yard. Honest.

The 1912 artillery, still owned by the U.S. Navy, is a hint at one of this home’s several lives (it had been an American Legion hall from 1927 to 1972). The Sommers – a Renaissance man and woman in the truest sense — can tell you about each of these lives in fascinating, fact-filled detail. (Please don’t skip The Snoopster’s slide show at the end of this post!!)

 

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But back to the home’s cannon-ization: In the late 1920s, Nick tells me, a Polish-American American Legion Post bought the house to serve as its Legion hall. The Post brought the cannon to its current roost in 1934, and there it has remained (except for a brief tour of duty at Navy Pier during World War II) ever since.

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A bunch of other Legion memorabilia had been blessed by being left in the attic and basement to fall into the Sommers’ appreciative hands. A World War I grenade belt, the Legion Post No. 86 flag, the Post’s charter and list of original members (Former U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski’s father was once commander of the post, Nick says.) But the really breathtaking keepsake lives on in the bowels of the home: a room hidden away in the basement that is known as the “Prohibition bar.”

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In this golden yellow (and surprisingly sunny thanks to deep window wells) room, a long wooden bar bears the scars of all the folks who leaned up against it while downing that then-forbidden booze. Shelves behind it house alcohol and vintage bottles unearthed when workers were repairing the street a while back.

But when the Sommers discovered this home in 1977, as it approached its 100th year, it was almost what you might call abandoned. And their mission, after many trips to the historical society, became to restore it to how C.H. Plautz, a former Chicago city treasurer, built it. Excavating layers of red linoleum in the halls until they hit the original “wood carpets” (this took more than a year); building a wall that had been knocked out.

 

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Originals still standing: In the front parlor and master bedroom, white marble fireplaces (the downstairs one once was painted to look like fancy wood) remain. Other originals: embossed tin ceilings in the hallway; faux bois shutters in the front parlor; jeweled, beveled and leaded windows also in the front parlor; door hardware.

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Enter Renaissance Man (and Woman) restorers: In addition to being well-read, well-traveled and scholarly, both Nick and Carol are self-taught stained-glass artists (“I figured if they could do this in the Middle Ages without a college degree, I could figure it out,” Nick says.) Carol made a window (see above) that reflects their love of music and gardening from bits of glass found in the ground when they took up a sidewalk. Nick made the address-marking transom over their front door and is working on a leaded-glass window for the front hall.

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Nick, retired from a career writing for the chemical industry, made a bed for their son, Scott, in the rear bedroom (yes, he assembled it in the room because it was too big to get through the doorways and around the narrow stairway). Carol, who used to run the language department at Lincoln Park High School, did the false graining of woodwork. Nick repiped the original steam heating system (“It took me 30 years to learn how”).

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Watercolors of places the worldwide, plein air works done by Carol on her travels (“They’re the best souvenirs,” she says) hang throughout the house. Both play cello and piano; Carol also plays violin and viola and is a gardener, master needleworker and scuba diver(!).

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Victorian additions: A working harmonium, typical of Victorian times, bought at an antique fair in the Netherlands (ironically, it was made in York, Pa.). Their not-quite-but-almost Victorian sofa and chair were bought from a guy repairing potholes who recognized their interest in all things Victorian.

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They take pride in the fact that they use the house as it was used in Victorian times – the front parlor dressed up for company and filled with things that reflect their travels, their lives. Rugs strategically lie over worn spots in other rugs.

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A family museum: An only child, Nick inherited the bountiful Sommers family memorabilia (“My family kept everything,” Nick says as he shows off a framed photo of his grandfather on a zeppelin’s maiden voyage on May 28, 1913, the ticket affixed on the back). Upstairs, a needlepoint sampler Nick’s grandmother, Klara Marx, made when she was a girl hangs near the bathroom. In the living room, a carved-wood eagle stands atop an elaborate post, giving a decorative front to a lectern. It had belonged to Nick’s grandfather and came from Brienz, Switzerland.

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A large, framed photograph of Nick’s grandfather, Carl Theodore Herrmann (above), a banker in Baden Baden, Germany, hangs in the front hall.

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Collections: “All the stuff we have has some meaning to some trip,” Nick says. “We have very eclectic collections, but we have themes.”

My favorite collection: The pipes in the drawing room. One is a large meerschaum and silver pipe, circa 1870, that belonged to, sit down for this: the doctor who cared for the mistress (French singer Pauline Viardot) of Russian author Ivan Turgenev. C’mon, how do you know that, Nick? The pipe, he says, was a gift from the doctor’s son!

And now: our slide show!

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Knock / Truly Victorian
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~~~

 

knock crispell welcome

June 25, 2009
Who lives in this Highland Park home where little birds always greet you and billiard balls bloom among the greenery?
 
Knock, knock . . .
Who’s there: Collage artist Linda Summerfield Crispell and Gar Crispell and their beauteous offspring, the lovely Lulu (her nom de Web), and her delightful bro, Deke (ditto on the alias). Oh, and I must not forget their ever-obedient Mssr. Buddy.

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Putting on a stoic front: The Crispells’ ivory-colored home with red-brick chimney of a spine and neat, black shutters tell only part of the story that unfolds inside. That part of the story is about strong foundations and handsome and serene backdrops to a colorful life filled with rich tales, creativity, collections (yes, the collections which, more than the house’s face, drew me to this house) and a lot of love.

Linda says she doesn't like the sight of an empty fireplace in the summer. Croquet, anyone?

Linda says she doesn't like the sight of an empty fireplace in the summer. Croquet, anyone?

While the collections of alabaster eggs, toy typewriters, candies, little chairs, birds and bride-and-groom cake toppers charm throughout the home, they — thanks to the Crispells’ deft editing, command of color (robin’s-egg blue, celadon and light neutrals) and clever and restrained display — do not overwhelm. They don’t smother. They just delight.

A grace-filled corner of the living room.

A grace-filled corner of the living room.

And the house (like Linda, Lulu, Deke and Buddy – sorry I didn’t get to meet Gar) make you feel happy–as though the world is just full of possibilities.

Here’s my slideshow. Take a peek and then read on!

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Lulu's self-portrait was a birthday present for Mom.

Lulu's self-portrait was a birthday present for Mom.

One of my favorite tales: When Lulu was in the second grade, she heard of the need for art supplies in some city schools and the efforts of artist Tony Fitzpatrick to fill that need. So for her birthday then and since, Lulu asked for art supplies for her birthday – and then donated them to Fitzpatrick’s cause. This story was told as I asked about the myriad artworks that grace the walls here, some by Fitzpatrick.

Dolls made by Ben (left) and Linda.

Dolls made by Deke(left) and Linda.

Creativity: In the family room, self-portraits done by Lulu, now 15, and Deke, 11, hang in either end of a cabinet that once held notices and bulletins in some church. In the master bedroom, a huge painting of a cake-topper bride and groom by Gar, created for an anniversary present in one afternoon, hangs opposite the bed. In the living room, there’s a painting of a nude (or is it a nun with a pocket, Deke considers) done by Gar’s father, Roger Crispell. Linda’s collages and little muslin dolls and feathers-cum-art pop up all around.

Love: In the den (which sounds way too stiff for this room that holds a small desk made by Linda’s grandfather for her mother; collages by Linda; Gar’s collection of small canoes and Native American miniatures) are collections built on each of the Crispells’ wedding anniversaries. Collections of wooden toy plane propellers Gar has given Linda – one each year. Each a little piece of sculpture, lying on a table like treasures unearthed in some archaeological dig. A cup sits nearby filled with old darts, their feathered ends showing off varying shades of brown – each given on different anniversaries to Gar from Linda.

Sometimes votives hang over the dining room table from this antique herb drying rack.

Sometimes votives hang over the dining room table from this antique herb drying rack.

Buddy

Buddy

Reuse, recycle, repurpose: These Three R’s are at the heart of all the charm in this house. In all the flea-market and in the estate-and demolition-sale finds, in the art. And after telling me how Buddy came from another family to become a member of theirs, Lulu realized, why, yes, even Buddy was repurposed!

 

 

***

knock honore frontdoor

 

June 19, 2009
Who lives in this Viking ship of a home off the Kennedy Expressway?
 
Knock, knock . . .
Who’s there:
I was so lucky today to meet Susan Thomsen when I knocked at the ivy-draped home just west of the Kennedy. The one the retired Whitney Young High art teacher shares with her husband, Finn. She waltzed me right in and started showing me around their home and studio. 

 

Both of them are artists and seem to see beauty and potential in just about everything (and everyone) around them.
Click here to read more and see my slideshow. 

***

knock min street vert

June 12, 2009
So what’s inside this Palatine home with the gently sloping pagoda rooflines?
 
Knock, knock . . .
Who’s there?
Min Pak and her son, Andrew

The back story:  Min, an artist and, until recently, photo imager for the Chicago Tribune, bought this five-bedroom home 3½ years ago. She’s its third owner; the first was the home’s architect Dennis Stevens, who built it and two similar Palatine residences in 1968.  “I don’t like a boxy house. I like it very open,” Min says.  

“When I was at Ragdale [the artists’ retreat in Lake Forest], my studio was like this. It was a huge one-room studio with a huge skylight and high ceilings. It was a very open space.”

And this house, with its soft loft-like design (walls fall far short of the ceilings that peak at a soaring 25 feet) is that too.

Looking from the living room, your eye takes in the dining room and lands on the short terra cotta-colored wall. The kitchen sits right behind. (See my slideshow at the end of this post for a more real-life tour.)

Looking from the living room, your eye takes in the dining room and lands on the short terra cotta-colored wall. The kitchen sits right behind. (See my slideshow at the end of this post for a more real-life tour.)

With the soft-loft walls, each room opens overhead to the next. And though there is not one traditional window (really), light and nature come streaming into the home through huge skylights in the two pagoda-like domes, another arched skylight over the front hallway and eating/area and clerestories and walls of sliding glass doors in the master bedroom and living room help the cause.

Looking out to the lava-rock waterfall outside the master bedroom. If this picture kept looking up (and if I were a more accomplished photographer), you would see the 25-foot-high skylight at the top.
Looking out to the lava-rock waterfall outside the master bedroom. If this picture kept looking up (and if I were a more accomplished photographer), you would see the 25-foot-high skylight at the top.

With the low walls, Min can lie in bed at night and see the moon or lightning, snowfall or rainfall through the sliding doors that line one wall and through the pagoda’s skylight in the nearby “waterfall gallery” (check out the stunning lava-rock waterfall in the slideshow that follows).

So what else is inside? Lots of light (“When you paint, you need the sunlight,” Min says). 

Really bringing the outdoors in!
Really bringing the outdoors in!

 A 41-year-old ficus tree that grows out of the ground in the front hall. Furniture that is a graceful mix of traditional and contemporary.

One of Min's paintings and a bust of David sit outside the master bedroom.
One of Min’s paintings and a bust of David sit outside the master bedroom.

Vignettes, tablescapes, color choices and beautiful surprises that point to the artist’s eye. Two blood red vases in the shape of Asian robes that point to her love of the hunt (they were Hobby Lobby finds; you can see them in the slideshow). And a glittery but not too-glittery kitchen chandelier (you can see this, too, in the slideshow) that points to Min’s need for “something elegant, something glamorous.”

Enough with the words, eh? On to the slideshow . . .

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: KNock, knock / Min
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9 responses to “Knock, knock

  1. Pingback: Where birds always greet you and billiard balls bloom among :: the snoopster

  2. Pingback: Knock, knocking in Wicker Park :: the snoopster

  3. I love this one. All the wood, and the curvy roof. It’s the subliminal tree thing ….

  4. bam

    oh, wow. now this is the coolest thing, to be able to gently tiptoe inside someone’s beautiful soothing house. i feel like i just walked through a spa. what a heavenly addition to the snoopster. i love everything about the way you are knock-knocking…love the little paperclip. very cool. it’s all wonderful.

  5. Sam

    How gorgeous!! I love this house!

  6. Kathy

    Wow! Nice pictures. Its nice to hear the story about the house. Are you planning to put this house on the market? I never noticed that the house doesnt have “traditional” windows. Interesting. Looking forward to taking another look at your house next week!

  7. What a great house! I would love all of that light!

  8. Lana

    What a lovely home. I love the tree in the foyer, that must be heaven during long Chicago winter and “spring” ; )

    I had no idea Min was such an accomplished painter, do you know if she sells her work?

    • Hey dear Lana, Thank you for looking! Yes, Min sells her paintings! In fact, in her dream world, she would have her own art gallery! If anybody out there wants to talk to Min more about her artwork or help her find her way to her dream world, you can find her on Facebook. Reach out!!

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