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List Price: $749,000
The Property: At the Century of Progress World’s Fair held on Chicago’s lakefront from 1933 to 1934, the Federal Housing Administration exhibited a model for a house it hoped to see spring up all over the country. It’s believed that this River Forest residence is that house, rebuilt on a corner lot after the fair.
An Art Moderne design, the house has a cubic massing, a panelized limestone façade, modernist corner windows, and ridges in the limestone that suggest window shutters. Over the years, its owners had enclosed the side terrace, wrapped the house in stucco, and added a mansard roof. “We called it the Burger King house; it was so ugly,” says Michael Murray, who bought the place in April from a developer who had planned to tear it down. A designer and builder who lives in New York and River Forest, Murray then set about taking the three-bedroom house back to its original look while also expanding it.
Inside the living room, the vintage detailing includes a curving wall that echoes a rounded part of the exterior, sleek steamship-style crown moldings, and a jazzy handrail on the stairs. Two doors that flank the fireplace provide for easy flow out to the roofed terrace. Because the kitchen was so small, Murray had to sacrifice one original detail: a pair of inset bookcases used to flank the door to the kitchen, but Murray removed one in order to extend the kitchen cabinets and work space out into the informal dining area.
The original garage made way for the formal dining room, its wide doors replaced by tall windows that frame views of the schoolyard across the street. Beyond the dining room, where the original house ended, Murray created a new family room, but with a savvy nod to the home’s history: the old exterior wall, including a window, is exposed inside this room. Other details in this new room suggest, but don’t mimic, the original. Among them are shelves arranged in long horizontal slashes that pick up on the era’s fondness for black piping.
Adjacent to the family room is a space that is now the master bedroom and bath but could be used as a media room, an office, or playroom. Murray chose the space as the master bedroom so as to make the entire first floor universally accessible according to ADA standards (there are no thresholds or stairs).
The other three bedrooms are on the second floor of the original structure. One was a master, so it has a private bath. There is also a hallway bathroom with some original green Art Deco tiling. All three of these rooms open to one of two rooftop terraces. From either one, there’s a view of this leafy River Forest neighborhood, but I’d prefer to sit there an imagine myself back at the Century of Progress, gazing out at the lights of the fair.
Price Points: “The crash saved this house,” Murray says. A teardown developer bought it in 2004 for $528,500, according to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. After the real-estate crash, the company listed the house for sale at $599,000; by the time Murray made an offer, it was down to $449,000. He paid $351,000, an amount that he felt would allow for a total remodel and keep his total costs within a reasonable range. Now a four-bedroom, three-bath house, it’s within the range of four comparable properties that have sold recently for between $765,000 and $860,000. One that is just up the block—a nice place, but with none of the pizzazz of this house—went for $780,000 in June.