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Live in a Howard Van Doren Shaw House in Wildcat Country

This Italian Renaissance Revival on the border of Northwestern will give you whiplash — in a good way.

Photos: Matt Mansueto

Turn-of-the-century architect Howard Van Doren Shaw was known for his attention to detail; a six-bedroom, 5,700-square-foot house in Evanston that he designed in 1909 shows why. With its abundant French windows and ivy-covered façade, the Italian Renaissance Revival at 2233 Orrington Avenue, which was recently listed for $1.9 million, looks as if it belongs in the European countryside, and its original features would make for a fun architectural scavenger hunt. Clue 1: Find the fruit. A produce motif appears in the relief of light fixtures in the garden room and foyer, in the blush-painted plasterwork in the living room, and in the carved wood fireplace. Clue 2: Spot the scrolls. The same fireplace and the garden room’s corbels both include embellishments reminiscent of a treble clef.

In fact, the home was built for a piano and organ manufacturer, Carl Williams, and he’s one of only a handful of people who have owned it. His son Bradley inherited the house and may have leased it to the German and Czechoslovak consuls in the ’30s. He then sold it to neighboring Northwestern University, and the provost moved in with his wife in the ’70s. The house returned to private ownership in the ’80s, and the current owners, David and Ellen Wagner, purchased it in 1995.

Inside Howard Van Doren Shaw House

“One of the things that’s always been important to me is that we’ve been able to maintain [the architectural detail],” David says. “The house is 110 years old, and we — the people before us and us in turn — have been able to do that.”

Besides all the upkeep, the Wagners have made a few additions of their own, including expanding the kitchen and building a family room in the late ’90s. They also introduced what’s become one of the house’s most identifying details: the attention-grabbing purple front door, in honor of the university that’s basically in the backyard.

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