Chicago can’t claim a shortage of Frank Lloyd Wright homes on the market. My most recent count has the number at eight: three in the city and five in the suburbs. The market can be unkind to a Wright. These undeniable treasures tend to take a long time selling, typically weathering drastic price cuts. Landmark restrictions, cramped headspace, and a forfeiture of privacy are some of the deterrents to becoming a Wright caretaker.
So, what’s the alternative for diehard devotees? Just build a facsimile, with many of the curbside trappings of an authentic Wright but with a comfort-laden modern interior. There’s a reason we call it “Prairie school”, after all—for its replicable stylistic qualities and heavy influence on generation after generation of architects and designers.
The sellers of a Naperville mansion did just that in 2008, evidently selecting Robie House as their blueprint (they were not available for comment). It’s not a clone—Robie’s poetic rise and fall of stone and brick terraces and walls gets regulated in the new-build. And there’s more pitched roof in the offspring, to the point where the home is almost a cluster of small cottages rather than a horizontal line.
The Naperville property has a considerably larger footprint with three finished levels totaling just over 10,000 square feet. The place manages a double-height great room, five bedrooms, five-and-a-half bathrooms, infinity pool, hot tub, and steam room. The basement really balloons the living space with a bedroom, bath, home theater, game room, rec room, and exercise room (don’t ask me to explain the difference between the last three).
There’s some resemblance to the Robie House’s interiors, namely in the well-lit perimeter corridors connecting first-floor rooms, the light fixtures, and the art glass and furnishings throughout. The great room’s grand fireplace is set up as the focal point for much of the house, just as Wright liked to do.
Another significant tweaking of classic Prairie is the parking for four cars—not just behind one large door, but separated into four distinct attached garages. The lot is a draw too, measuring more than half an acre on a cul-de-sac about a mile south of downtown Naperville. Fondness for the Prairie school is infectious in these parts: a few of Wright’s disciples were active in the historic district just east of downtown and today’s property isn’t the only modern remake within nearby blocks.
Price Points: The seller’s ask has tilted downward since the September listing, from $3,295,000 to $2,950,000. Property taxes were $33,148 in 2012—a not unforeseen blow given the property’s size and the city’s relatively high rate. Bill White, Sr. of Baird & Warner is the listing agent.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, 5757 S Woodlawn Avenue. Photo: Creative Commons/Wikipedia