Frank Lloyd Wright acolytes who wear themselves out touring the architect’s dozens of innovative Chicago-area buildings now have a place to sleep it off: the Emil Bach House on Sheridan Road in Rogers Park. As finishing touches on a meticulous restoration are completed in the next few weeks, the house, built in 1914 for the head of a brick company, will debut as the only Wright structure in Illinois where visitors can pay to stay overnight.
Thanks to the deep pockets of Col. Jennifer Pritzker’s Tawani Enterprises, the home has been returned as nearly as possible to its original look, both inside and out.
Six art glass windows designed by Wright that were removed about 50 years ago have been copied from an original that now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. The interior walls’ yellow color was imitated from intact samples that were hidden behind a built-in piece of furniture. Stucco that was lathered across the fireplace wall is gone, revealing the elongated Roman brick Wright specified.
There are also some 21st-century touches: a planted green roof on the teahouse and a geothermal system, which heats and cools the home using liquid that has been pumped below ground to pick up the steady temperature there.
The house, along with its teahouse and large fenced yard, is being offered as a vacation home and event space, rented as a package and sleeping five.
“It’s a full residential experience that you can’t get in a hotel or a bed-and-breakfast,” said Wayde Cartwright, one of two part-owners of the Lang House, a Tawani-operated bed-and-breakfast one door north, who will manage the Bach house’s operations.
The property rents for $750 for a night, or for a day if it’s to be used for a wedding or other event. Overnight rentals require a minimum of two nights’ stay.
That’s an introductory price, said Sean McGowan, Tawani’s chief operating officer, who said that while the price will go up, it’s not yet certain when or by how much. “The market will decide that,” Mr. McGowan said.
The venture can afford to wait and see. It’s bankrolled by Ms. Pritzker, whose net worth is a reported $1.8 billion, and who, Mr. McGowan says, is “a preservationist first and a developer second.” That order of priorities means that “we tend to invest more than a developer would,” he said.
Ms. Pritzker hand-picked the Emil Bach House, Mr. McGowan said, as well as previous projects that include the Monroe Building, a vintage office tower in the Loop, and Farcroft by the Lake, a Rogers Park apartment building. The aim with each one, he said, has been to “take a property that has not been taken care of over the years but is pretty magical, and bring it back to life at the highest level of quality, (while) developing an income for it that offsets the large costs that go into it.”
Mr. Pritzker’s Tawani also hopes to turn two Frank Lloyd Wright homes in Kenwood into bed-and-breakfasts, but is facing community opposition. The Cheney House, a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Oak Park, operated for a time as a bed and breakfast in Oak Park before it closed, in part because of neighbors’ complaints.
Doing things like rebuilding the Bach house’s front sidewalk using only concrete that would have been available to Wright a century ago “extends our return-on-investment timeframe,” Mr. McGowan said. Neither he nor Tawani chief of staff Mary Parthe would say how much has been spent on the renovation or what the forecast return on investment is. Ms. Pritzker declined to comment for this article.
Through a limited liability company, Tawani bought the property in 2010 for $1.7 million from Jane Feerer, according to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds. At the time, Ms. Feerer was a Tawani executive; she since has retired.
Restoration that had begun during Ms. Feerer’s five years as owner kicked into high gear when Ms. Pritzker took over, according to Mr. Cartwright and Bruce Boyd, another part-owner of the Lang House next door. “Everything was done with a very exact look at what had been here originally,” Mr. Boyd said.
Rebuilt sections of the wood banding on the interior walls and concrete caps on exterior walls have been matched precisely (although some of it was not yet complete on a walk-through late last week). Built-in furnishings including a window seat in the front bay and a long, slender black walnut dining table that extends from one side of the fireplace were re-created from original architectural drawings and old photos.
‘DON’T WANT TO GET IT WRONG’
Some details weren’t revived. If there wasn’t a matchable extant portion or an image of it, “we haven’t re-created it,” Mr. Boyd said. “We don’t want to get it wrong.”
While built-in furnishings replicate originals by Wright, the movable furniture will not. None of it had been moved into the building by the time of last week’s walkthrough, but the property managers and the Tawani executives said it was chosen to feel modern and comfortable.
“Let’s be honest,” Ms. Parthe said. “The furniture that Frank Lloyd Wright built wasn’t the most comfortable.” They declined to provide images of the selected furniture.
As it’s now configured, the Bach house has three bedrooms. A fourth, smallish one that was originally for a maid was turned into a bathroom sometime in the past. It’s one of two full baths on the second floor with the bedrooms. Each bedroom has a small balcony; there also is a large, open-air, second-floor terrace. Most of the first floor is essentially one large room, although bookcases and window bays suggest divisions between a foyer, a sitting room around the fireplace, a dining room and a living room. The kitchen is tiny, still in its original footprint, but with handsome cabinetry patterned after a lone original interior cabinet door that was intact on the fireplace.
The yard, the size of a city lot, contains a few tall trees and is landscaped around the edges, but is mostly lawn, to accommodate events. Mr. Boyd said it already has been booked for two weddings and a garden party. At least one overnight rental already is booked as well, he said. As an event rental, the Bach house could be used in combination with the Lang next door or, later, with two bed-and-breakfasts that Tawani has in the works in nearby Evanston, one scheduled to open in June and the other up to a year later, according to Ms. Parthe.
While sometimes-troubled Rogers Park may not strike everyone as the ideal place to rent a vacation house, Tawani executives note that the Bach house has Loyola University a mile south and Northwestern University three miles north. Both bring in high-level guests for the short and long term who might opt for a house over a hotel suite. “We believe there’s a marketplace for it,” Ms. Parthe said.
This post originally appeared on ChicagoBusiness.com on April 23, 2014.