List Price: $2.65 million
Sale Price: $2.702 million
The Property: A breathtaking Tudor mansion in Kenwood—packed full of sumptuous architectural detail that’s virtually all intact from its original 1910 construction—sold at lightning speed in an all-cash bidding war.
The 18-room mansion had had only two owners in the century-plus since the esteemed country-house architect Howard van Doren Shaw tricked out the home with a crenelated limestone facade, acres of woodwork, lavish plaster ceilings, and leaded- and stained-glass doors.
“The architecture is ‘oh my god’ level,” says Rita McCarthy, the Coldwell Banker agent who represented the home in the sale, which closed January 16. She audibly swooned as she rattled off a list of finely crafted details—grape leaves carved into a limestone mantel, plaster quatrefoils on a ceiling, heraldry in the stained glass, “medievalizing” light sconces. (Much of that is visible in the photos, below.) “It all still looks the way Shaw had it,” McCarthy says. “He went all out on this house, and it’s all intact.”
Shaw designed the mansion for Thomas Wilson. A Chicago meat-packing executive, Wilson built the sporting goods company that bears his name out of the desire to put slaughterhouse waste to use in other products, like tennis racket strings. When Wilson died in 1958 at age 90, the mansion was sold to Richardson Spofford, an accountant, and Janice Spofford, a University of Chicago biology professor. They owned the house from 1958 until they sold last month.
Although the Spoffords maintained the house’s myriad details over the years, the house needed spiffing up before it went on the market last fall. McCarthy says the sellers moved out in May to allow for a months-long cleaning and staging process overseen by restoration expert Barbara Tipping Fitzpatrick. The project entailed restoring faded paint colors and cabinetry, repairing random bits of damage to the wood, and replacing the lightbulbs in every one of more than 200 original sconces. The exterior, which had sooted over to black over the years, was cleaned up a few years back, bringing back the glint in the random bits of quartz the stone contains.
“It was a gentle restoration to bring it back to looking original,” McCarthy says. “ We didn’t want anyone to come in and miss the phenomenal details.”
A few of the people who came in were Wilson descendants who ended up buying some of the furnishings that the Spoffords had bought with the house, including a player piano, a grandfather clock, and a set of 127 leather-bound volumes of a history of the Civil War, each volume embossed in gold with Thomas Wilson’s name.
The property, which includes a five-car garage and six-tenths of an acre of ground, went on the market September 23 and went under contract ten days later. The sale closed January 16. The buyers aren’t yet identified in the public records; McCarthy says they are moving from a Victorian they restored nearby.
Price Points: When she priced the home at $2.65 million, McCarthy says, agents who hadn’t seen the inside “laughed at me. Then they came to the open house” and may have wanted to take back their laughter. Two bidders, both offering all cash, showed up quickly and took the price up two percent over the asking price.
McCarthy says she doesn’t think that means she should have priced it higher. The home still needs central air conditioning, upgrades to its old electrical system, and possibly a renovation of the kitchen and baths, which while they retain their original charms, will probably not suit today’s owners. “Just keep the butler pantry” the way it is, McCarthy cautions. It has its original tall glass-fronted cabinetry, as well as an antique icebox and a floor-to-ceiling silver safe.