Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Preservation Month Part IV - The Parlor

Parlor, 2012 (photo by James Caulfield)

During Preservation Month 2020, we have explored each of the first-floor public rooms, looking at the history of the spaces, their use after the house passed out of the Glessner family, and the restoration work undertaken to return the rooms to their late 19th-century appearance. Our final article looks at the parlor, a recent project, and one of the most extensive ever undertaken.

Parlor, 1923 (photo by Kaufmann & Fabry)

Whereas the library was the room most utilized by the family for their quiet moments together, the parlor was specifically designed for entertaining friends and special guests. Additionally, its intended use for musical performances is reinforced by the fact that the ceiling lacks the beams seen in the other first-floor rooms, and is also nearly one foot lower in height, both details improving the acoustics.

Parlor, 1888 (photo by Absalom D. Edgeworth)

The three large windows facing south into the courtyard are the most fully realized expression of Richardson’s innovative plan to turn the public rooms away from the street. Not only do the windows admit the maximum light and warmth from the sun, (most welcome on the wintery days when the family was in residence), they also look out into a fully-enclosed space, thus providing an unusual level of privacy that was rare in an urban residence.

The entrances into the parlor are oriented to heighten the intimate feel of the space. A pair of doorways from the main hall flank the central fireplace on the east wall. On the west wall, a single central doorway leads to the dining room. With this arrangement, the long vista common in many large homes, designed to emphasize the spaciousness of the house, is broken, creating a space complete unto itself, and not simply part of a progression of rooms.

Parlor, 1888 (photo by Absalom D. Edgeworth)

The fireplace features finely carved detailing beneath the mantel shelf, utilizing the acanthus leaf motif seen elsewhere on both the exterior and interior of the house. Richly colored Siena marble, in soft yellow and rose tones, compliments the pale-yellow tiles of the fire back which measure six inches long but only one-half inch in height. The tiles were designed by the English firm of Craven Dunnill & Co. which also designed the tiles for George’s fireplace and the floor in the entry vestibule.

Craven Dunnill & Co. tiles in fireplace

A similar color palette was utilized in the window draperies and the portieres in the doorway to the dining room, a Morris & Co. pattern known as Kennet. The two doorways to the main hall featured elaborately embroidered portieres of another Morris design, which Frances Glessner had stitched by women at the Chicago Society of Decorative Art and delivered to the house in November 1888. (In 1918, the Glessners donated these portieres to the Art Institute of Chicago and one panel remains in the collection although it is not currently on display).

Embroidered Morris & Co. portiere (Courtesy of the Art Institute)

The walls of the parlor are framed with a simple broad trim that connect the baseboards to the picture rails up above; the same trim is used around the windows. The original wall treatment was a floral wallpaper executed in various shades of yellow, as determined by analyzing small fragments uncovered by finishes analyst Robert Furhoff in 1984. The source of the wallpaper is unknown, and it is not a Morris & Co. design. 

Original wallpaper and color palette

Following the installation of electricity in 1892, the room was redecorated with a richly colored burlap wallcovering executed by the English designer William Pretyman. At the same time, various portions of the wood trim, including the cove moldings, were covered with gold leaf, to coordinate with the metallic paints and glazes used in the wallcovering.

Parlor, 1923 (photo by Kaufmann & Fabry)

The last major change made to the room took place in 1904, when the Glessners purchased new shades for the wall sconces, selected while spending the winter in Santa Barbara, California on account of Frances Glessner’s health. The shades chosen were designed as six-petaled flowers, each petal being made from an abalone shell. The incredibly rich colors of these shades when illuminated, combined with the coloring of the wallcovering, must have been truly enchanting.

Surviving abalone shell shade illuminated

The parlor was utilized for all formal entertaining, and its size reflects the Glessners preference for smaller gatherings, where they could easily interact with all their guests. When larger musical entertainments were held, furniture could be removed and additional seats added, extending into the main hall if necessary. On a few occasions, such as the full sit-down dinners held for the symphony orchestra, the 900-pound Steinway piano was moved out of the room as well!

An interesting photo of the parlor was taken on March 31, 1938, the day that Armour Institute took possession of the house. The Glessners’ original six-foot-wide dining room table, and several chairs, are seen being used by members of the Armour faculty. It is the best surviving picture of the dining room table, which was sold off in the mid-1960s; its present whereabouts are unknown. The photo also reveals the faded condition of the Pretyman wallcovering, which helps explain why it was painted over soon after.

Armour faculty in the parlor, seated around the Glessners' original dining room table (photo by Foto-Ad Studio)

When the Lithographic Technical Foundation moved into the house in 1945, the parlor was converted to use as a research laboratory, like the adjacent dining room. The north doorway to the main hall was closed off to accommodate an alcove for a large light box, and the oak floors were covered in linoleum.

Research laboratory, 1946 (photo by Hedrich Blessing)

After the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation took possession of the house, the parlor and dining room were renovated for use as exhibition galleries. As the original sconces were missing, track lighting was added to the room, and the walls were painted white, the original picture rail being utilized to display exhibit panels and artwork.

Installing the 1973 Arts & Crafts exhibition

By 1974, the process of converting the parlor to a more accurately restored room was begun with the removal of the track lighting and the recreation of period light fixtures. These were based on the original sconces used in the second-floor main hall and were later replaced by more accurate sconces in 1983, complete with reproductions of the original hand-blown glass shades. The parlor was used to display original Glessner furniture, decorative arts, and steel engravings in Isaac Scott designed frames, although not necessarily as the Glessners originally displayed them.

Parlor, circa 1974

A major change to the parlor took place in 1979, when the original custom-made Steinway piano was returned to the house, a generous gift of Gardner Cowles, publisher of numerous newspapers and Look magazine. During a visit to the house, Cowles learned that the original piano was in the president’s house at Harvard University, where he sat on the board of trustees. He purchased and donated a new Steinway to Harvard, and the original Glessner piano was released and returned to its original home. It was dedicated at a concert in April 1980 with a recital by Etsko Tazaki, a protégé of Sir Georg Solti, who attended the celebration with his wife, Lady Valerie Solti.

Sir Georg and Lady Solti at the piano dedication, April 1980

Although the original Pretyman wallcovering had been painted over numerous times, a small unpainted section had survived behind the back plate of one of the wall sconces. In 1991, this sample was analyzed by Grammar of Ornament, a Denver-based firm that specializes in the restoration of historic interiors. A sample section was prepared and placed above the picture rail on the west wall. For the next twenty years, plans of being able to recreate the wallcovering remained a dream.

Surviving section of unnpainted Pretyman wallcovering

Pretyman wallcovering sample created in 1991

In June 2009, long-time docent Aileen Mandel (class of 1986) passed away. Having provided a generous gift for the restoration of the parlor shortly before her death, her three children generously directed memorials to the project, providing seed money for the recreation of the wallcovering. Less than a year later, in May 2010, Bunny Selig, a member of the first docent class of 1971, died, leaving a generous bequest to Glessner House, along with a second gift in honor of fellow 1971 docent class member Robert Irving. Selig, who minced no words, often noted during her tours that “Mrs. Glessner would be mortified to see her parlor looking like this,” a reference to the pale “Campbell’s tomato soup” orange walls and bare windows. The Mandel and Selig gifts, combined with a grant from the Driehaus Foundation and other gifts, allowed the long-awaited restoration of the parlor to begin.

Parlor prior to restoration, February 2011

Grammar of Ornament was engaged to recreate the wallcovering, utilizing a canvas that had the same texture as the original burlap. New technology allowed for a deeper analysis of the Pretyman-designed original, revealing eight layers of metallic paints and glazes, which were painstakingly replicated, using two stencils highlighted with hand-painted details. The wallcovering was installed over three days in early October 2011.

Reproduction wallcovering in production, 2011

Touching up seams during October 2011 installation

Prior to this, the original wallcovering had been carefully removed, labeled, and stored, for future analysis and study. Lee Redmond Restorations made the necessary repairs to the wood finishes and gold leaf trim that had been obscured by paint through the years.

One of the original Kennet drapery panels had been donated to the Art Institute in the 1970s. It was pulled from storage so that the original colors could be determined. That information was then sent to Trustworth Studios in Plymouth, Massachusetts where a digital version was created and printed onto fabric, closely replicating the original appearance. Appropriate tiebacks and fringe were obtained, and brass tieback hooks were installed utilizing the same screw holes as had been used for the originals. John LaMonica replicated the drapery rod brackets, which were also reinstalled into their original screw holes.

Original Kennet panel (Courtesy of the Art Institute)

The ample 10-foot-long banquette, which originally sat in front of the windows, had been discarded by the Glessners in 1905, when John Glessner inherited his parents’ sofa. An analysis of two photographs of the parlor, taken in 1888 by Absalom D. Edgeworth, provided detailed information, allowing for an accurate reproduction of the banquette, down to the number of tufts in the seat, the height of the fringe, and the size and design of the pillows. Bob Furhoff designed the piece and advised on color and fabric. This work was undertaken by Fine Woodworks and G&A Upholstery.  (Note: I remember the day Scott Chambers from Fine Woodworks called to make sure the banquette would fit through the front door, to which I replied that the front door was big enough for H. H. Richardson to fit through! He didn’t get the joke, so I assured him the banquette would fit).

Banquette, 2012 (photo by James Caulfield)

The parlor was dedicated at a great celebration and ribbon-cutting held on October 14, 2011. Aileen Mandel’s three children cut a teal ribbon on one of the two main hall doors leading the parlor, the color symbolizing her courageous battle with ovarian cancer. Members of Bunny Selig’s family cut a purple ribbon at the other door, purple being the only color Bunny wore for the last several decades of her life. Guests were treated to an illustrated lecture on the life and career of decorator William Pretyman, given by docent John Waters.

Aileen Mandel's children at the ribbon-cutting, October 14, 2011

Today, the parlor is a fitting tribute to these two docents, who devoted countless hours sharing their passion for Glessner House and its family with countless visitors. The work of numerous craftsmen to restore each element of the room allows those visitors to experience the space exactly as intended, as though they had been invited by the Glessners for an evening of conversation and music.

Parlor, 2012 (photo by James Caulfield)

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Preservation Month Part III - The Library

Library, 1888 (photo by Absalom D. Edgeworth)

During Preservation Month 2020, we are exploring four of the main rooms at Glessner House, examining the history of the spaces, their reuse after the Glessner occupancy ended in 1936, and most importantly, an overview of the restoration work undertaken to return the rooms to their original appearance. The focus will be on the architecture and decoration of the rooms, with less emphasis on the furnishings and decorative arts.

Library, 2018 (photo by John Rouse)

This week we look at the library, one of the most significant rooms in the house, both for its direct link to Richardson and in how its use by the Glessners demonstrates the different path they took from their neighbors. Additionally, it was the first room to undergo restoration, signaling the start of an important transition for the building from adaptive reuse to a historic house museum interpreting the period of the Glessner occupancy.

When the Glessners met with H. H. Richardson at his Brookline, Massachusetts home and office in September 1885, they were especially impressed with his office. John Glessner later wrote, in part:

“Mr. Richardson had his home and office in Brookline, just out of Boston.  His private office was a large and beautiful room, with just enough disorder always to be pleasing, with stacks of fine books, with rare and beautiful objects scattered over shelves and tables, a great fireplace in one end before which, with back against a large table, was a deep and most comfortable lounge or couch . . . This is the room I liked the best.”

Richardson's office, 1885

Richardson provided the Glessners with several large mounted photographs of the room (which are in the collection today). Upon examination of the photos, one can easily see the significant details that were carried forward from this room into the Glessners’ library – the beamed ceiling, mid-rise bookcases, huge central partners desk, alcove, and a comfortable couch at the end of the desk facing the fireplace. Additionally, details like the Morris & Co. “Peacock & Dragon” fabric and the large singing bowl, were replicated in the Glessners’ main hall.

On December 4, 1887, the first Sunday that the Glessners spent in their new Prairie Avenue home, Frances Glessner recorded the following event in her journal:

"Today we took a carriage and went to the old home. We kindled a fire in the library and I lighted a lantern which I carried over and brought the light home - then from that I lighted a fire here in the library. Professor Swing read a few verses from the 5th chapter of Matthew and made a beautiful prayer. Now I feel that the house is dedicated. And so ends a very happy day and prosperous beginning."

Library fireplace, circa 1888 (photo by George Glessner)

The fact that this little ceremony took place in the library is significant. Whereas the parlor and dining room were designed for entertaining friends and family, the library was the “family room.” A most interesting aspect of the room was its intended use equally by John and Frances Glessner. In other large houses of the period, the library was always the domain of the male head of household – the place where business would be conducted, and where brandy and cigars could be enjoyed. However, the large partners desk in the Glessner library clearly portrays its use by both John and Frances Glessner, and photos show this room being enjoyed quietly by just the two of them. The thousands of books that lined the bookshelves speak to their significant shared interests in everything from architecture and design to European and American history and biography.

John and Frances Glessner in the library, circa 1910

The idea of the library as a family space was reinforced in later years when the Glessners became grandparents, with the grandchildren visiting every Sunday. Grandfather Glessner would stand in the north window of the library to watch for his grandchildren heading south from their homes at 1700 and 1706 S. Prairie Avenue. Upon arrival, large boxes of toys would be pulled out of the alcove and the grandchildren would play in the room while their grandparents sat at the desk – Frances Glessner writing out her weekly journal entry and John Glessner tending to his correspondence and business matters.

Of course, the room was also the site of Frances Glessner’s Monday Morning Reading Class, which  met here from 1894 until 1930. A paid professional reader, standing in front of the fireplace, would read passages from books selected by the class, while the ladies sat on the sofa, window seats, and scattered chairs about the room and into the hall, working on various types of needlework.

Library, 1923 (photo by Kaufmann & Fabry)

When the house was given to Armour Institute in 1938, the partners desk was among the items of furniture left behind. A photo taken on March 31, 1938 shows Prof. Joseph B. Finnegan, director of the department of fire protection engineering, conducting a seminar. The photo was staged to show that the house was being used for educational purposes so that it could be exempted from property taxes. In reality, classes like this were never held in the library.

Professor Finnegan and students seated around the partners desk, March 31, 1938 (photo by Foto-Ad Studio)

In October 1945, the Lithographic Technical Foundation opened its research laboratories in the house, and the library appropriately became the research library. The room was modernized in terms of décor, although the bookcases were initially left intact, and the partners desk was left in place. As the library continued to grow, the bookcases were extended up to the ceiling and lower shelves in some cases were removed to accommodate radiators.

Lithographic Technical Foundation research library, 1946 (photo by Hedrich Blessing)

The library became the center of activity when the house was rescued from demolition in 1966. Early meetings of the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation, specifically formed in April of that year to purchase the house, were held here. 

CSAF meeting, August 1966 (photo by Richard Nickel)

Shortly after the house was acquired that December, the bookcase extensions were removed, and as the heat in the house was no longer functioning, the wood was burned in the fireplace to keep the room comfortable. Eventually, two large electric heaters were acquired until a central heating system could be installed.  The room was thoroughly cleaned and set up as the first space in the house for Foundation activities to take place.

IIT students washing windows, 1967 (photo by Richard Nickel)

Staff and docents would sit around the partners desk and eat their brown bag lunches in those early days. Marian Despres, a charter board member and later president of the Foundation, also recalled in Chicago Architecture Foundation, The First Twenty Years 1966-1986:

“By March 1967, Charles Jackson, who had been hired as a watchman, had moved into the basement of Glessner House . . . The only problem that arose during his tenancy was that sometimes, when a distinguished visitor was being entertained in the library, the aroma of cabbage and onions would waft up through the registers to mix with the brandy and cigar atmosphere of the House.”

Docent Bob Irving regaling staff and docents, 1972. Note Richardson's portrait on the wall, which was returned to the main hall once the library was restored.

In early 1973, it was announced that the library would be restored, utilizing generous funding from the family of architect Alfred S. Alschuler. Marian Despres was Alschuler’s daughter, and she rallied the family to the cause.

The restoration work began with an analysis of the unique wall surface in the room. John Glessner had written in his 1923 The Story of a House:

“At the time the house was finished, the green walls of the library were painted blue over yellow, after repeated experiments by John Leary, an artist from Davenports, and it has not been necessary to repaint them since.”

Samples of the original paint were taken to the conservation department of the Art Institute, where they were analyzed by Marigene Butler. She confirmed John Glessner’s information, noting a yellow base over which was stippled a blue translucent glaze, giving the room its color. James O’Hara, of O’Hara Decorating Service, undertook the meticulous work to repaint the walls using the same method employed originally by Davenport, also returning the ceiling to its soft yellow color.

A section of the original wall surface was left exposed for future analysis.

The wall sconces were replicated using a surviving original fixture in the library alcove under the main stairs, with glass shades based on historic photographs. At the same time, the partners desk was rewired so that the two outlets on the desktop were made functional once again. Joseph and Olga Valenta recreated the missing bookshelves, baseboards, and missing elements of the south window seat, repurposing oak discarded from other areas of the house when possible.  Thirty-nine cases of books, returned by the family, were inventoried and placed on the shelves, and other decorative objects, including many steel engravings in Isaac Scott frames, were returned to their original locations.

The south window seat, following restoration

The room was formally dedicated exactly 46 years ago, on May 21, 1974, with many members of Alfred Alschuler’s family present, including his widow and his son, also named Alfred, who continued the architectural practice after his father's death in 1940. 

Members of the Alschuler family gathered for the dedication of the restored library on May 21, 1974 (photo by Tom Yanul)

Marian Despres noted the significance of the library restoration in the annual report to the Foundation membership in September 1974:

“The library is our first fully restored room, and although it is difficult for many of us to refrain from using it as before as a meeting place, a gathering spot to casually light up a cigarette or lay down a glass, I’m sure you share our pride in having Prairie Avenue’s first authentically restored room.”

Library prior to restoration of the fireplace, 1974 (photo by Steve Grubman)

The fireplace was restored soon after, using reproductions of the long red unglazed tiles made in England, and the original brass fireplace surround, which had been found in a “deserted shed” at The Rocks in New Hampshire. The drapes, which had remained in the house when given to Armour Institute, were identified as “Bird and Vine” by Catherine Frangimore, a specialist in 19th century wallpapers and fabrics at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York. The 1936 inventory of the house, made after John Glessner’s death, confirmed that they were red wool. Reproduction fabric was ordered from Scalamandre, the only firm which had the required jacquard looms. A minimum order of 50 yards was required, so the drapes for the second-floor hall, which used the same pattern, were made at the same time. All of the drapes were installed in the spring of 1985, along with matching cushions on the library window seats.

"Bird and Vine" by Morris & Co.

The final restoration work in the room took place in 2012, during the 125th anniversary of the house. Utilizing the 1923 photos of the room as a guide, six large pillows, in four different patterns, were made for the window seats, improving the “cozy” feel of the room.

This 1923 photo was used to determine fabrics for the recreation of the pillows (photo by Hedrich Blessing)

North window seat with reproduction pillows

Today, the library provides a more intimate view of the Glessners than can be found in most of the other rooms. The large partners desk, with an open book and papers scattered about, gives the impression they will be back at any moment to enjoy this beloved room, where they could step away from the demands of business and social life, to spend quiet moments together and to share their many common interests.

Library, 2018 (photo by James Caulfield)

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Preservation Month Part II - The Main Hall

Main hall, 2018 (Photo by James Caulfield)

During Preservation Month 2020, we are exploring four of the main rooms at Glessner House, examining the history of the spaces, their reuse after the Glessner occupancy ended in 1936, and most importantly, an overview of the restoration work undertaken to return them to their original appearance. The focus will be on the architecture and decoration of the rooms, with less emphasis on the furnishings and decorative arts.

Earliest known image of the main hall, 1888 (Photo by George Glessner)

This week we look at the main hall, a critically important space within the house, as it was the first room guests would see upon their arrival. The ground level entrance of the house, unique on Prairie Avenue, resulted in guests experiencing the main hall differently than in other homes, as it slowly revealed itself as the guests ascended the interior stairs to the first floor. The warm tones of the quarter sawn red oak paneled walls, combined with the richly colored and patterned Morris & Co. rugs and textiles, immediately conveyed the “cozy” feeling Frances Glessner requested of H. H. Richardson.

Main hall, 1923 (Photo by Kaufmann & Fabry)

Directly ahead of the stairs, a curved wall subtly directed guests to the right, the location of the parlor and dining room. The curved wall is centered by a door which leads to a porch in the courtyard. The only leaded glass window in the house is found in that door, where a simple grid of clear chipped glass squares is backed by yellow glass. In late afternoon, the effect of the sunlight hitting the irregular facets of the chipped glass is absolutely stunning.

Detail of leaded glass window; there are 230 pieces of chipped glass in total

A large wood-burning fireplace is flanked by entrances into the parlor. The Glessners believed strongly in the hearth as a symbol of hospitality and that idea is well conveyed in the early sketch Richardson did of the main hall, although the shield and crossed swords above the fireplace would not have been to the Glessners’ tastes. 

Rendering of the main hall, 1885 (Office of H. H. Richardson)

The detailing of the fireplace, which has no mantel, features Classical details found elsewhere in the house including dentil, bead, and egg-and-dart motifs. The fireplace is faced in dramatic African rose marble, a type of Breccia stone which features broken fragments naturally cemented together with a fine-grained matrix. The hearth stone is a lighter colored Bois de Orient marble.

Fireplace detail, 1987 (Photo by Hedrich Blessing)

Adjacent spaces, including the schoolroom, library, master bedroom hallway, and parlor, can be closed off from the main hall with either pocket doors, regular doors, or portieres, an important consideration for a winter residence where Chicago’s cold winds could find their way into the hall. Above the front door, a cork alcove (accessed from the library) provided cork walls where the Glessners tacked up prints and drawings. The idea was based on Richardson’s own bedroom, which also had cork walls, so that he could tack up his architectural drawings and view them when confined to bed during frequent illnesses. Other secondary spaces off the hall include a guest bathroom and a small closet under the main stairs, which measures just four feet in height, and was most likely used to store tools and wood for the hall and parlor fireplaces.

Cork alcove, 1923 (Photo by Kaufmann & Fabry)

The most dramatic feature in the hall is the broad staircase leading up to the second floor. Restraint of detail and an acknowledgement of Colonial interiors result in a simple but beautifully detailed newel post and balusters in five designs, the full series repeating once on each stair tread. The balusters are loosely based on those that the Glessners saw in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house in Cambridge; that house had been built in 1759 for John Vassall.

Newel post, 2018 (Photo by Sheri Sparks)

Stair balusters about 1970 (Photo by Richard Nickel)

Richardson’s portrait, a heliotype copy of the Herkomer portrait completed shortly before Richardson’s death, has always occupied a place of honor by the stairway. It is the only portrait that the Glessners displayed in the hall, signifying the high esteem in which they held their architect. When the Glessners later made arrangements to deed the house to the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, a stipulation required the AIA to always keep Richardson’s portrait on display.

Richardson's portrait, 1923 (Photo by Kaufmann & Fabry)

The only significant change made to the hall during the Glessners’ occupancy related to the beamed ceiling. Richardson’s plan called for two heavy timber beams oriented east-west, with one north-south beam alongside the opening for the stair. For unknown reasons, this was altered, and the north-south beam was extended, cutting one of the east-west beams in two. The result was that the floor above sagged nearly two inches, requiring it to be shored up. At this point, the Glessners added substantial iron brackets at the intersection of all the ceiling beams, and the deflection ceased.

The main hall has remained a place to welcome and gather guests throughout its post-Glessner history. A photograph taken in 1946, during occupancy by the Lithographic Technical Foundation, shows a reception desk set up in front of the curved wall, where the receptionist would have had a clear view of the main door. This photo also gives a good sense of original lighter color of the oak paneled walls.

Lithographic Technical Foundation reception hall, 1946
(Photo by Hedrich Blessing)

Cork alcove, 1948 with a spinet piano in place!
(Photo by Robert Florian)

When the Chicago School of Architecture Foundation acquired the house in 1966, all the plaster walls and ceilings on the first floor had been painted mustard yellow. An architecture student at the University of Illinois – Circle Campus, repainted most of the first-floor rooms to an off-white color the next year.

Main hall, 1965 (Photo by Richard Nickel)

Virtually all the original light fixtures in the house were stolen during the period when the house stood empty in 1966. Details visible in historic photographs allowed for an accurate replication of the unique sconces in the hall, and the first step toward restoration of the hall involved recreating the three-arm sconces over the front stairs by early 1972; several more were made later that year in response to a fundraising campaign where people could fund a sconce for $85. (The final sconces, in the cork alcove, were not installed until 1989).

Reproduction fixture, 1972 (Photo by Richard Nickel)

Another early project involved replicating the elaborate turned balusters, many of which had been lost through the years. In 1973, Olga Valenta came to visit the house with her daughter’s school class. A fifth-generation cabinetmaker whose family started their work in the court of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, Olga, and her husband Joe, recreated several balusters; many more were made over the next decade.

The 1973 Arts & Crafts exhibition filled the main hall, parlor and dining room
(Photo by Thomas Yanul)

As noted earlier, the color of the oak paneling was originally much lighter throughout the main hall. The Glessner servants would have regularly oiled the wood to maintain its low gloss finish. However, in the decades following, the wood was not properly maintained, resulting in dangerously dried out wood with little original finish left intact. Subsequent oiling of the raw wood and the attraction of soil to the surface resulted in a much darker color than originally intended. Preservation architect Wilbert Hasbrouck undertook some work on the paneling in the mid-1970s to improve the overall appearance, but a full-scale restoration was beyond available resources.

The deteriorated condition of the curved door was addressed in 1976 when it was rebuilt using a combination of original and remade components. George Dark was hired to repair the leaded glass window. During transport, the window was dropped, resulting the loss of several pieces of the original light amber glass. The replacement glass is slightly darker in color, making it distinguishable from the original.

A major change to the hall occurred in 1984, when the Mohasco Corporation (Mohawk Carpet) donated carpeting that was based on the design of the original Morris & Co. Hammersmith rug used by the Glessners in the main hall. Wall-to-wall carpet was installed in the first and second floor halls and on both stairways; large area rugs were also made for the parlor and dining room. The work was coordinated by Mary Baim, president of Plywood Minnesota of Illinois.

The main hall in 1987 after installation of the Mohawk carpeting
(Photo by Hedrich Blessing)

Another significant change took place in 1987 when the walls and ceilings were repainted their historic colors – a deep orange/red for the walls and a light yellow for the ceilings – based on a color analysis undertaken in 1984 by Robert Furhoff. It was the first of many projects undertaken by Furhoff to establish original colors and finishes for an accurate restoration of interiors throughout the house.

The occasion of the 125th anniversary of the completion of the house in 2012 resulted in two projects being brought to fruition. The first was to complete the wall sconces, which had been designed without the “spider” brackets needed to hold the correct glass shades. The spiders were fabricated by John LaMonica. Reproductions of the original Murano glass shades, ordered by curator Jethro Hurt in 1979 from Salviati & Company in Venice, Italy, were finally installed after sitting in storage for 33 years.

Reproduction shade by Salviati

The second project involved recreating the Morris & Co. “Peacock & Dragon” drapes and portieres, working with Sanderson (the company which reproduced the fabric), and utilizing a generous donation from long-time docent Allan Vagner and his wife Angie.

The portieres at the north end of the hall concealed the entrances to the guest bathroom and servants' hallway

The next year saw the installation of the beautiful Morris & Co. “Lily” carpet on the front stairs, a generous donation from Robert Furhoff. Produced by Grosvenor Wilton in England, the carpet is an exact copy of the original, including the border which was recreated from historic photos by John Burrows.

Front stairs with "Lily" carpet installed, 2018
(Photo by James Caulfield)

The final restoration work in the main hall took place in 2014 when all the wall-to-wall carpet was torn up and the floors hand stripped and refinished by Lee Redmond Restorations, funded by gifts received in memory of long-time docent Wilma Growney. Sections of the carpeting were used to recreate a close approximation of the Hammersmith rug (the original of which is now in the collection of the Art Institute).

Floors in process of being hand stripped, 2014

Today, visitors experience the main hall just as they would have more than a century ago, its careful restoration returning those features that still convey Frances Glessner’s desire for a cozy and welcoming space.

Main hall, 2018 (Photo by James Caulfield)

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