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Frank Lloyd Wright Baker House Undergoing Renovations

After years of neglect and following legal disputes over the home’s rightful owner, the Baker House is undergoing renovations.

Photo courtesy VHT Studios
By Sabrina Martin
July 21, 2020

Frank Lloyd Wright's Baker House, which was sold to Amy and Eric Bauer in 2019, was previously owned by the Sobel family since 1957, when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The Baker House is protected under Wilmette’s historic preservation ordinances because previous owners registered it as a Wilmette landmark, requiring that any alterations to the property be approved by the Historic Preservation Commission. In early February, all renovation plans for the Baker House were approved by the commission and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. The Bauers also sought additional approval from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, although doing so was optional, village planner, Kate McManus, said.

“Even before they had closed on the house, the current owners contacted us and wanted to learn about the house,” said John Waters, a restoration architect for the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. “From the very beginning they were interested in the history of the house.”

Clerestory windows ring around the two-story living room.Photo courtesy VHT Studios

Wright originally designed the house in 1909, according to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust based in Chicago. The dwelling, one of Wright’s nearly 400 remaining buildings, has unique clerestory windows that ring around the two-story living room, Waters said. He added that the structure’s horizontality mirrors some of Wright’s most prominent features at the time of his work.  

“Recently, eight of Frank Lloyd Wright’s works were placed on the World Heritage list, which is the highest designation in the world that a piece of cultural heritage like architecture can get from UNESCO,” Waters said. “So the world really regards Frank Lloyd Wright’s work as being among its treasures.”

Modified kitchen designed by Walter Sobel. Photo courtesy VHT Studios

The new owners plan on remodeling the Baker House’s existing kitchen as well as restoring a 3-foot wall that was originally put at the home’s entry but has deteriorated over time, Waters said. The kitchen, however, was already modified since Wright’s original design by Walter Sobel, an architect himself. The new changes will be renovating these later additions 

“Considering that they were in an area that had already been altered,” Waters said. “I would say it didn’t change the level of integrity in the house.”

Current homeowner Amy Bauer plans on bringing the house to “modern standards,” including by updating the original electrical and plumbing systems that remain installed.

Because these new renovations were primarily done to make the house a more “viable 21st century” living space while still respecting Wright’s architecture, there was little, if any, opposition to the plans. This was partly because the renovations met the basic conditions for adjustments to a landmark, including that the changes will not be visible from the street and that the renovators plan to use materials that are similar to those used in Wright’s original work.

“Our motto has been preserving what we can, restoring original details that are there and modernizing,” Bauer said.

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