779 Bryant Avenue

Gazette Article by: Nan Greenough
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall 1996

Shaw House Evokes Timeless Elegance

Few architects cut across centuries of design with the aplomb of Howard Van Doren Shaw. Using historic elements in innovative ways, he seamlessly married different styles into a coherent whole. His work was stylish, yet understated. Although “architect to the stars,” it is no mystery that the American Institute of Architects named him a Fellow in 1907 and a Gold Medal winner in 1926.

In 1897 Shaw moved to Lake Forest, the fortunate recipient of many of his designs, including the first-ever planned suburban shopping center, Market Square. It borrows elements from Flanders and Germany of the 15th and 16th centuries. Completed in 1916, it transformed the downtown area from a messy pile of shanties into a park-like setting facing the train station.

Other high-profile work by Shaw includes the Fourth Presbyterian Church on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, the University of Chicago’s Quadrangle Club, and the R. R. Donnelley printing plant.


Winnetka has few works by Shaw. A lovely example, however, sits sideways on the lot at 779 Bryant Avenue. Tucked back from the street, it was built for Albert Kales, a law professor at Northwestern and Harvard. Built in 1910, the house’s poured concrete foundation and conduit-encased electrical wires show Shaw at the forefront of technology. There are natural stucco exterior walls (imbedded with bits of stone and shell), wooden brackets, a cedar shake roof, battered-out walls, a trapezoidal chimney, and irregularly placed windows – both casement and double hung.

The house’s interior draws from English Arts & Crafts style and from Shaw’s signature decorative elements: plaster moldings of hounds and stags and carved fruit swags. The living room has an original Arts & Crafts Roman brick fireplace (uncovered in 1995), a beamed ceiling, and built-in bookshelves.

The Georgian dining room, a Shaw trademark, displays an exquisite decorative plaster ceiling. The kitchen has its original butler’s and cook’s pantries.

Following a sensitive refurbishing based on thorough research by the present owners, the house glows in authentic colors, its original elements restored.

Despite his education (Yale, 1890 and MIT Architecture, 1892), Shaw was a hands-on architect, capable carpenter, and mason. His design and attention to detail wear well, providing exquisite domestic views 86 years later.

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