How A Prairie-Style Bungalow In Maywood Was Pulled From The Brink And Restored

Friday, July 19, 2019 || By Lacey Sikora/Wednesday Journal || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: Loren and Alyse Buchmeier reclaimed their historic Tallmadge and Watson home from years of neglect. | Alexa Rogals

When Loren and Alyse Buchmeier purchased their Maywood bungalow in 2011, the couple knew it was a fixer-upper. Thanks to Loren’s interest in architecture, they also knew they were buying not just a house but a piece of history.

The Henry Akin House was built for one of Maywood’s mayors, and designed by Tallmadge and Watson, a pair of Oak Park architects sought after for their Prairie Style designs throughout the Chicago area.

Loren says that when he first saw it, the house had been vacant for four years, at least for the most part.

“It was occupied by at least four raccoon families during that time,” he said.

Nevertheless, when he first saw the house, he knew he could make something of it.

“I’m a third-generation carpenter, and when I looked in and saw all the oak, I knew I could love the house,” Loren said.

A police officer in Berwyn during the day and a carpenter in his spare time, Loren set about turning the home into something he and his wife could be proud of. He says of the seven years they spent restoring the home.

The Henry Akin House, designed by Talmadge and Watson, features distinctive Prairie Style design elements, such as broad, overhanging eaves. | Alexa Rogals

“Literal blood, sweat and tears went into it,” he said.

He readily admits that he had a lot of guidance along the way. First, he credits Lennel Grace, a member of Maywood’s Historic Preservation Commission with saving the home from ruin.

As Loren recalls, Grace was walking by the landmarked house one day when he noticed someone inside removing the original chandelier. Grace stopped the fly-by-night flipper from making off with the home’s original features, and soon afterwards offered his services to the Buchmeiers when they purchased the home.

“Historic Preservation kind of came with the house,” Loren said. “Lennel ended up being a great friend and ate dinner here three nights a week. I ended up joining the Historic Preservation Commission.”

Joined by his father and a crew of loyal friends, Loren worked on the house on his days off and along the way became a self-described “huge Tallmadge and Watson fan.”

He did his best to recreate what was missing from the house and to protect the original features that were still there. He could see remnants of the original sconces in the house, but the sconces themselves were missing, so he looked at another Tallmadge and Watson bungalow built around the same time, and reconstructed the sconces based on those he found.

A TV room (above left) and the home’s kitchen provide a glimpse into an earlier time, when the house was built, but also clearly reveal that the home has been renovated throughout. | Alexa Rogals

He used a 1909 Tallmadge and Watson design as a pattern for the stair banister. An original, massive built-in buffet in the dining room stands testament to over a century of family meals, and original woodwork and art glass remain throughout the home.

“I did what I could to make it look authentic,” Loren said. “The good thing is it’s all still here minus a couple of art glass windows that I understand were originally in the master bedroom.”

The Buchmeiers also discovered a lot about the history of their five-bedroom home. The home was featured in a 1911 book, “Bungalows,” written by Henry H. Saylor, in which the author points to Tallmadge and Watson as arbiters of the bungalow design.

The house originally had a detached garage, like most of his neighbors. A year after it was built in 1910, a house designed by Tallmadge and Watson in Oak Park received what was rumored to be the first attached garage in the area. Shortly thereafter, the Akins reached out to the architects and had an attached garage added to their house as well.

Along the way, that attached garage was turned into a master bedroom addition by a subsequent owner, and a mudroom was added onto the kitchen. Someone also added two non-conforming dormers to the second story.

The Buchmeiers restored the gleaming oak woodwork and built-ins like the buffet off the dining room and kept the period feel in other rooms, like the bathroom.

Working with the Historic Preservation Commission, Loren designed a large dormer that better suited the Prairie style of the bungalow and reworked the interior to reflect the home’s age.

He and his father removed four layers of flooring from the kitchen. When the original maple floor in the space was too destroyed to salvage, they used oak to match the flooring in the rest of the house.

Today, the Buchmeiers have reluctantly listed their labor of love for sale to move closer to Loren’s father, and the couple emphasize what a fantastic neighborhood Maywood is for both the quality of the neighbors and the quality of the architecture.

While Lennel Grace has passed away, Loren remembers his historic preservation friend as someone who led him to discover some of the wonders of historic Maywood. From the recently preserved Mason Building on Fifth Avenue to bungalows like theirs that are on the National Register of Historic Places and are locally landmarked, Loren says the village is home to a wide-range of architectural treasures.

“My wife and I, when we started looking at houses, we were just astounded by how beautiful the houses are here,” Loren said. “The lots have large yards and are peaceful – there’s only three houses on our block.”

He points out the Tallmadge and Watson-designed church around the corner, another house designed by the partners, and a John Van Bergen design nearby when extolling the architectural chops of the village.

“This whole area and this whole region are just amazing,” he said. VFP

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