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This Row House Has the Highest Asking Price in Hyde Park—for Good Reason

Renowned designer and old home restorer Todd Schwebel went to town on this eclectic 1916 five-bed almost 20 years ago. Now, he’s bidding farewell.

The end of a five-home row on 56th Street near Woodlawn Avenue. Each home is differentiated.   Photo: Courtesy of Coldwell Banker

Price: $2.5 million

When the historic restoration specialist Todd Schwebel discovered a rare Moorish Revival row house in Hyde Park back in 1996, he didn’t let structural decline, wall-to-wall carpeting, or the unlikely Miesian retrofit throw him. “It was a 1950s time capsule. Edwardian details had been taken away or pushed back,” he says. “I’ve put them all back and more so that the home is much grander within a very strict paradigm of the original stylistic intent.” That intent? Broadcasting a particular late 18th and early 19th Century aristocratic worldliness. “Orientialism” is what they called it, a fad on the East Coast and Europe but almost nonexistent in Chicago.

Anchoring the end of this 1916 five-home row modeled on NYC’s Sutton Place, this 5,100-square-foot five-bed has ascended to the top ranks of Hyde Park real estate under Schwebel’s care. It’s also the neighborhood’s highest asking price at $2.495 million—$115,000 more than a neighboring Prairie house and more than Frank Lloyd Wright’s Heller House. The biggest sale to date was the $2.185 million paid last year for a doublewide piece of Professor’s Row, directly across 56th Street.

The “Orientalism” guided by leitmotifs such as door and window arches gave license for exotic expression in art, wallpaper, and furnishings, with many early American collectibles such as a mahogany sofa that belonged to Secretary of State Daniel Webster, Robert E. Lee’s rocking chair, and a birdseye and tiger maple chair from George Washington’s Woodlawn Plantation. Schwebel’s decorative choices were less scripted than architectural ones, but they do subscribe to a common ambience. “There’s a serious academic architectural thing going on in this house.”

Schwebel’s work for clients around the world is all about reproducing the authentic aura of classic grand homes without shortcuts. At his home this meant engineering sand plaster to show shrinkage cracks like the old stuff, detailing strap work made from 100-year-old molds, crafting a kitchen sink out of expensive Vermont soapstone, locating exact cuts and species of wood to match restored finishes, installing precise replicas of David Adler cupboards and trim, and re-framing a top-shelf Klondike case refrigerator in a period-accurate wooden icebox. Roofing tiles are exact copies of originals, salvaged antique leaded glass fills window frames throughout the house, and a grisaille, or grayscale, dining room wallpaper depicts scenes from the Far East.

Schwebel frequently channels Adler and Howard Van Doren Shaw because of early and long-lasting exposure to their renegade revivals on the North Shore. He lived in Shaw homes for many years and is a former president of the Shaw Society. One thing he didn’t do was varnish the floors—also in deference to these legendary architects. “It’s a high-low thing since all the other surfaces in the house are so polished and opulent,” he says.

There have been just three owners in the home’s 99 years, and one family had it for almost 80. With past links to international societies and the University of Chicago, the house has hosted influential visitors. Chinese political leader Chiang Kai-shek stayed here, and Mies Van Der Rohe met future client Edith Farnsworth in the dining room. Even though this is a row house, its staggered footprint allows for four exposures with open circulation on the main floor and a tremendous amount of natural light. “The inside-outside interplay is the macro thing with this architecture,” says Schwebel. The property is wider and deeper than a standard Chicago lot, and an exquisitely manicured backyard with a sunken central green, hedges, exotic trees, limestone, and a pergola make good use of the extra feet. “The garden is the ballroom since there’s no space for one indoors,” he adds.

The two bedroom levels are filled with artwork from friends and leading contemporary artists. The five bedrooms, office, and sitting room are right-sized, and many are clad in vintage wallpaper. The attic’s service kitchen is the one space kept in fifties purgatory—convincingly so, with plastic tile and steel countertops. A finished basement sports a billiards room and decorative fireplace. It has painted beams and built-in benches. Around the corner are wine and root cellars.

Schwebel is headed “back upstream” closer to North Shore family. Jennifer Ames of Coldwell Banker has the listing.

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