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Kenwood’s Finest Prairie House Lists For $2.6 Million

The 109-year-old Magerstadt House, by architect George Washington Maher, looks as good as it ever has.

The Ernst J. Magerstadt House   Photo: Ian Spula

Price: $2.6 million

Kenwood’s constellation of great period houses includes works by Frank Lloyd Wright, Henry Ives Cobb, and Howard Van Doren Shaw, and house industrialists, Nobel Prize winners, and a sitting American President. Second to none in invention and condition is the landmark Magerstadt House, a mid-career Prairie design of George Washington Maher and on the market. Maher worked parallel to Wright in the moment when a new American modernism was being fleshed out. And so, the 1906 Magerstadt House is a conglomerate of styles: cubist in its arrangement of rooms without corridors and Prairie in its girth and use of organic motifs. Art Nouveau factors in, too, with numerous elegant stained glass doors and windows.

“As luck would have it, this open layout is in demand today,” says owner Elizabeth Miller, a preservation architect who heads the firm Studio 31a. It’s not just the openness that astounds, but also the ceiling heights. These are not 8-foot Wright ceilings; they are 10 feet or higher. “Generally, Prairie style houses have a real nice entry but if you feel the ceiling is very low you’re not welcome in the house yet,” says Miller. "You’re invited to come to the door but not through it.” That’s exactly how the ornate side entrance functions. You have to pass through heavy doors and climb steps to the airy foyer before you’ve truly arrived.

The 6,500-square-foot house has almost half its square footage on the main level. That includes the rear kitchen and family room addition, completed by a previous owner about 15 years ago. It does its best to respect the sequencing of windows, the moldings, and the huge dimensions of the living room, foyer, and barrel-vaulted dining room. The addition sreduced the size of the backyard but it barely matters. This is a 300-foot-deep lot with a patio, outdoor fireplace, lawn, and a four-car garage hidden by a stand of trees.

Speaking of windows, a lot of the home’s drama is in the 32 poppy-themed art glass panes, but they get an assist from a trio of jumbo clear windows. Roughly 8’ wide by 6’ tall, if they had any curve to them they’d be next to impossible to replace. The first belongs to the living room and is a portal to the sprawling front porch, with glass doors on either side. This pattern repeats at the back of the dining room—formerly the end of the house—heading into the kitchen, and again at the back of the family room where the patio begins. Maher enjoyed this sequence so much it’s also loosely reflected in the master bedroom’s window wall opening to a balcony.

The master suite is not where it ought to be. The addition allowed two small bedrooms to combine with new square footage for a master that consumes nearly half the second level. It includes a large bathroom, walk-in closet, an armoire stretching down a hallway, and a balcony. The original master has become an en suite second bedroom, with hints of its old status in a corner fireplace and antique wall safe. The third floor is less formal than the rest of the house, and adds two bedrooms to bring the total to six.

The home is peppered with plush modernist chaise loungers and rustic tables. Elizabeth and husband Karl had a stroke of luck when they nabbed a former conference table at a Pennsylvania antique shop to serve as the dining room table. It works beautifully in the space and its tiger stripe wood grain is an exact match to the staircase’s edging. If someone wants it, which I suspect everyone will, there’s room for negotiation.

The first thing the Millers did after purchasing the house was clear it of ivy, known to damage brick. “It looks good, but this house doesn’t need the help,” says Elizabeth. They did a lot of unsexy work—HVAC, electrical, and cleaning out flues—since cosmetically everything was on point. “It’s so historically intact, livable, and solid,” continues Elizabeth. “When there’s a terrible storm outside at night, you’ll have no idea until you walk outside in the morning.”

Price Points: The Millers hadn’t planned on uprooting three years in to their stewardship, but Karl has a mechanical engineering gig waiting in Colorado. They purchased the home for $2.05 million in June 2012 and are asking $2.6 million today. Kenwood has seen four sales over $2 million in the last year, and four the year before. Its large vintage manors are no longer a drag on the area’s recovery from recession, even though they sometimes take a while to sell. The Obama family home is a short block south, and happily this property sits outside the blockade. Elizabeth never felt inconvenienced. “We’ll sit on the front porch and watch the motorcade go by. The President always waves to his neighbors.”

Coldwell Banker’s Jennifer Ames has the listing.

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