Article: Little House (Peoria, IL) restoration

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Post by peterm »

Paul- Get well soon. What a horrific story...

I hope you are healing quickly and are able to get back to your work and family. And yes, thanks for letting us know...

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Post by DRN »

I was shocked to hear of your best wishes go out to you for a full recovery.

Please understand my earlier post was not to imply that I have any intention of "moving up" or aggrandizing Sweeton. I am proud to own a very rare example of Wright's effort, outside of prefabrication, to design a truly modest house. The elegance of its simplicity and the richness amid that simplicity is the house's most significant quality. The house fits us like a glove and we intend to live here as long as we are physically able, which hopefully will be about 40 years. My statement was acknowledgement that one day we will unfortunately NEED to sell the house, and the house must be appealing not just with its design, but also its function, to a buyer likely to have been born between the years 2005 and 2015.

My statements were to note that some change is necesssary to enable us and future (probably less tolerant) owners to have greater opportunities to experience and enjoy leisure time at the house.
For instance:
Until last month, the house had never been equipped with a garbage was great for the garden, but in the dead of winter or when the yard is swamped with 8 days of rain....

How many Usonians don't have dishwasher? When its just the two of us, or one or two guests, we do ok...but a family gathering or a party will fill the galley kitchen with dirty dishes and crockery to the point that dessert prep is awkward at best...cleanup literally takes several hours.

The Sweeton house was originally equipped with a clothes washer only. No dryer. A dryer was jerry-rigged into the "workshop" off the master bedroom in the 1970's. The washer remains in the kitchen (because that is where the water is) and we shuttle the wash from the bedrooms to the kitchen, then from the kitchen to the workshop.

Ever caught a stomach flu at the same time as your spouse and had only one toilet?

A 3' x 8' tool room off the carport will not hold all that is needed to maintain the house and the property. I utilize every cubic foot, but still the wheelbarrow, rototiller, and push mower do not fit (not that I would want to risk chipping the red concrete steps or floor lugging them in and out).

We intend to make reasonable technological updates to the house to reduce time spent with daily chores which will allow us more time to spend restoring and ultimately enjoying the house. We have no intention of aggrandizing it...its most important feature is that it was built to suit a client with modest means (kind of like us). The workshop, once cured of its habit of flooding, will be a natural location for a second toilet and lav, a stacked washer and condensing dryer in one room (thus enabling a dishwasher to enter the kitchen), space for a small home workstation, and a little cabinetry for light misc. storage. Ten pounds in a five pouind bag? No, I've worked a plan out; it is to be detailed similarly to the existing house, and it is to be reversible. How do I get plumbing 36' from its current termination through a house with no attic, crawlspace, or partitions with cavities? Send a pipe out from the basement through an existing sleeve that brings the water service in, and run it to the workshop underground via the front yard. I'll run it when we excavate to remove the 1000 gallon oil tank and regrade the front for positive drainage away from the house. Waste pipe? I had the new septic system designed and installed to accept a soil line to be run through a below grade wall in the workshop and out through the south side yard.

As for maintenance equipment, we have a down and dirty Rubbermaid shed to keep the stuff dry, but a detached garage at the southwest corner of the property (50'+ feet from the house) would better house them, as well as getting the trash and recycling cans out of the carport, and allow us someday to own another classic car. The garage would also block the winter view from the entry windows to the office building dumpster.

None of this is aggrandizement, and none of this damages the physical or experiential character of the house. There are no over the top master suites, home theaters, commercial grade kitchens, wine cellars, steam rooms, or anything else Extreme Makeover Home Edition can think of. We are not "Curb Appeal" people and do not aspire to "the mine is bigger than yours" existence. We just want to reduce the time we spend doing everyday menial tasks, and equip the house to match is current and future monetary investment, which is considerable. Everyone someday will need to live off their savings. Right now most of mine is going into the house, eventually it won't, but for now it does. At the point in my life or my spouse's when downsizing might become necessary, the house must sell quickly to a like minded buyer for a reasonable price...we are not as financially secure as Joel Silver, or the AOL magnate who bought the Marden house. The Sweeton house is a passion for us, but a house to a middle class couple realistically has to be an investment to some extent too.

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Post by peterm »


I can certainly relate to your situation. It's the seemingly endless "punch list" of small but important jobs which can be overwhelming and expensive. I, too, share your appreciation for the "truly modest house".

I honestly think that over time, more and more of the owners of important historical architecture will be careful to avoid the "upgrade and renovate" syndrome unless it is important to restore the architects original intentions, or for the health and well being of the house and it's occupants.

Your approach is respectful but realistic, and like you, I can see nothing to "move up" to when one is lucky enough to be the steward for a house like Sweeton. An average architect can make a decent house with a big budget. Only a brilliant architect can design a house like Jacobs or Sweeton with a tiny budget.


The "trading up" and flipping phenomenon has little to do with architecture. It is only gambling on futures, like in the stock market, and yes, there was a lot of money to be made that way. The last thing on my mind when buying a house thousands of miles away in a small town in Iowa was making a killing in the real estate game. In fact, I was aware from the beginning that it would be more "money pit" than "equity vehicle". My wife and I bought Lamberson for the love of the architecture, so can not speak for those who gamble at the real estate casino.

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Post by SDR »

I would never confuse, and didn't mean to appear to, the dedicated Wright owner/restorer with the real estate opportunist -- and the thoughts and
experiences of DRN and of peterm well illustrate the approach most to be desired and admired, I would say. An idealist living in the real world must
thread a difficult needle, at times !

Speaking of difficulty, I was horrified to read of Paul's accident. I do hope that the perpetrator of this outrage -- the speeding motorist -- was brought
to justice. Godspeed to a full recovery, Paul.


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Post by flwright »


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Post by pharding »

SDR wrote: Speaking of difficulty, I was horrified to read of Paul's accident. I do hope that the perpetrator of this outrage -- the speeding motorist -- was brought
to justice. Godspeed to a full recovery, Paul.

Thank you. She received a traffic ticket. Her auto liability insurance, $50,000, covered my medical bills for the first 5 days. I have seen 8 different doctors. My medical bills are well north of $100,000 at present. This does not include lost wages, economic losses, miscellaneous expenses, future medical, pain and suffering, my bike, etc. My insurance is covering part of the balance.

After she hit me, I was lying along the road with a broken fibula exposed in my laceration, bleeding profusely, unconscious, she comes up and calls someone on her cell phone instead of calling the EMS. Someone asked her to call the EMS 3 times. She just ignored them and kept talking. Fortunately someone came up with a cell phone. Ten to 15 minutes later the EMS arrived and the EMTs worked on me on the road while the police stopped traffic. My leg stuck out on a goofy angle that would not allow them to get me into the gurney so they had to set the broken bones in my leg without anesthetic. Every time that I was moved the pain in my back and tail bone was unimaginable. Finally I had a long, bumpy ride to the hospital. The young EMS Technicians were great. I think that they were as scared as I was. The emergency room doctor, a fellow cyclist, and the two original surgeons were all surprised that my injuries were not worse. I was very fortunate. As I went through recovery in the hospital, I never realized how much my attorney cared for me.
Paul Harding FAIA Restoration Architect for FLW's 1901 E. Arthur Davenport House, 1941 Lloyd Lewis House, 1952 Glore House | | LinkedIn

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Post by PrairieMod »

Everyone at PrairieMod wishes you all good thoughts, prayers and a speedy recovery!

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Post by JimM »

Paul-so sorry for your unfortunate accident..... wishing you a complete recovery.

Recently a local 16 year old (unlicensed) yahoo first plowed into a family walking along a country road, requiring a seriously injured 5 year old to be flown off the island, then hit a Canadian cyclist head on, killing him.

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Post by Palli Davis Holubar »

Paul, so sorry for your disaster and good hope your recovery will progress with speed.

From SDR:
It is interesting to see how current political issues work their way into unrelated discussion, as the overflow from the all-too-apparent rent in the national fabric affects us all. We can only hope for a return of sanity and civility. . .
Dare I add empathy in these days of national health care debate.

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