Gazette Article by: Cindy Fuller
Appeared in the Gazette: Winter 1998
“Getting there is half the fun.” So goes the old adage, which has particular relevance for anyone purchasing and renovating an older home. Once the owners of 832 Bryant Avenue opened the walls during their recent renovation, they discovered that what they had thought was a Colonial Revival was actually a Victorian farmhouse! Curiosity about its past will keep them occupied long after the dust has settled.
Victorian architecture in America generally refers to the time period at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign in the second half of the 19th century. Most Victorian styles are loosely based on medieval forms with an emphasis on verticality, as seen in steeply pitched roofs. Asymmetrical facades and multi-textured walls reflected advances in industrialization, allowing more complex shapes and decorative detailing to be utilized in architectural designs.
832 Bryant began life as a Victorian farmhouse sometime in the last quarter of the 19th century. This simply designed, vernacular building would have been built by a contractor or builder, not a trained architect. Architect-designed buildings in Winnetka dating from this time are few.
Building records in the village are scarce for this period but an 1891 map plotting the lots for sale in the neighborhood—Winnetka Park Bluffs—showed the 832 lot available. A sewer connection permit application for this lot was dated 1895. By 1905-07, photographs of the house next door show that 832 Bryant had been built.
Opening the walls at 832 Bryant revealed early balloon frame construction, a technique where lightweight lumber framing went up quickly (like a balloon). According to the owners, the framing in some areas was shaky at best; one of the large living room windows did not have a header, the structural piece framing the top of a window. The current living room at one time had been two parlors, a typical feature in Victorian homes. When the wall separating the parlors was removed, only the floor above and the plaster ceiling were left to hold up the long expanse of space. Divine intervention and a good architect rectified the situation during remodeling.
One mystery that may never be solved is the architect’s discovery that the framing appears to be older than the foundation. The house is situated close to the sidewalk, but there is no evidence of a porch, although this was a typical feature of the style. Could the structure have been moved to this site from elsewhere in the village?
Building permit records do indicate that in 1922 owners named Langworthy significantly changed the house. At that time the front door was moved to the north side, and a two-story addition on the rear and the large arched garage door—for a model-T Ford—were constructed.
During the recent renovation the current owners had to make some challenging decisions to make the house meet the needs of their large family while remaining true to its design integrity. What they achieved is a gracious, spacious home that reminds us of a quieter, simpler life at a more pastoral time in our village—until the kids come home from school!