The Charnley-Persky House in Chicago’s Gold Coast, at the corner of Astor and Schiller, was built in 1892 by legendary architect Louis Sullivan and his junior draftsman, a young Frank Lloyd Wright. It was considered to be the first modern home in Chicago at the time.
The home was donated to the Society of Architectural Historians in 1995, which was at that time based in Philadelphia. The catch was that to accept the donation, they had to move their offices to Chicago, which they gladly did. The home is available for docent-led tours every Wednesday at noon (free) and Saturdays at 10am and noon (US$10). Admission is on a first-come, first-served basis with groups maxing out at 15.
The tour of the home starts in the former kitchen on the ground floor. A brief history of the home and its original owners is given before moving outside and across the street to learn about the symmetry of design and masonry methods. The house is completely symmetrical and was built right up to the property line, unlike other houses nearby with several steps leading up to the front door. The brick and mortar used was a very thin Roman style that was very expensive to construct.
The balcony of the house was hand-carved completely out of wood and uses Venetian columns, which feature a round base and a square capital. The woodwork displays elements commonly used by both Sullivan and Wright. Ornamental iron designed by Sullivan adorns the front door.
As soon as you walk in the front door, there are a few more steps leading to another interior wooden door that has incredible hand-carved designs. This door opens into the house where an oddly placed fireplace sits in front of the door and underneath the staircase that leads to the upper floors. Natural light enters the house from a skylight in the roof, which has been attributed to Wright.
To the left and right are arches that lead to the two common rooms of the house, the living room and dining room. The spaces have no doors on them (Sullivan) in order to keep heat in winter and cold air in summer freely flowing through the home. Both rooms have fireplaces surrounded by marble and ornately hand-carved woodwork. Unfortunately, none of the original furniture exists except for a cabinet in the dining room. If you look carefully, it was designed in the shape of the house and carries the same symmetrical features.
Walking upstairs, we were taken to the most spectacular feature of the house. The staircase that leads to the third floor has about 100 thin wooden slats that create a screen. The ceilings are lower on the upper floors, so the railing was purposely built much lower than normal in order to create the illusion of a higher ceiling. These features were designed by Wright.
We then walked out onto the balcony to get a closer look at the woodwork and ornamental iron designed by Sullivan. One interesting feature were the windows which allowed natural light into the walk-in closets. In the years the home was built, it was a popular belief that exposing clothing to light and air increased the clothing’s health properties.
Finally, we were shown the bedrooms on the second floor. Both of them are now being used as offices, but they still have fireplaces. The south bedroom has a bathroom original to the house. All bedrooms in the house had en-suite bathrooms when it was built.