Hills-DeCaro House: Oak Park, Illinois

Front Entry of the Hills-DeCaro House.  May, 2003

Most Frank Lloyd Wright homes are identified by the names of the original owners (Robie or Darwin Martin to name a few).  A few carry the names of the original owners AND that of a person responsible for serious renovation of the home.  The Hills-DeCaro house is definitely one of the latter.  This home was originally commissioned as a renovation by Nathan Moore, owner of the Wright-built home next door, as a gift for his daughter and her new husband.  It was originally a Victorian Stick style house that was built in 1883 on a different part of the lot.  The home was relocated and re-positioned on the lot, turning it 90 degrees so that the original entry faced the side.   Wright's preliminary drawings date to 1900.  Wright added horizontal accents to the steeply pitched roof to combine the Japanese influence with that of his Prairie designs.  

The interior of the house is pure Prairie School.  Wood accents and beautifully crafted radiator covers are the norm when you step into the house.  Large book shelves, art glass and doors and a large central fireplace add to the feel of this Prairie design house.  Soon after moving in, The Hills decided they didn't like the decor and hired a decorator to change it.  It was also renovated in 1912 to add a maid's quarters to the back of the house and enlarge the kitchen.  A 1917 renovation enclosed the back veranda and added a basement to the home.  Mrs. Hills lived in the home until her death in 1965.  

Profile of the Hills-DeCaro House with the Nathan Moore house in the background.  May, 2003

Two subsequent owners let the house deteriorate significantly in the 10 years that followed.  That is where the DeCaros entered the scene.  They purchased the home in 1975 and the renovations began.  A disastrous fire burned all but the first floor of the home while it was under renovation.  Amazingly enough, much of the original furniture and fixtures on the first floor survived the fire, including the original blueprints that were rolled up in one of the china cabinets.  Faced with an even more daunting task of renovating this home, the DeCaros persevered and the home was  brought back to its original state with a few changes.  Two upstairs bedrooms were merged into a master suite and much modernization was done to the facilities of the house.  

The home has had 4 owners since the DeCaros sold the house.  The current owners purchased it in 2001 and have begun an additional renovation project.  Though the home was in quite good shape, they wanted to do some needed work to make the home more authentic and add utility to the basement by finishing it for use as a family room.  The basement floor was lowered 12-14 inches and the original stone foundation was revealed to add a rustic look to the rooms.  The heating and cooling systems were artfully updated throughout the house.   I was amazed at how well the heat and cooling registers were incorporated into the ceiling woodwork.  

Front Detail of the Hills-DeCaro House. May, 2003

The current home is furnished with many original pieces that survived the fire in 1976.  They have also added replica furniture from other period homes that complete the look of the house.  A Darwin Martin House replica dining room set looks great next to the original Wright china cabinet designed for the space.  The Mexican dining room light looks a bit out of place, but I was assured that it is one of the original furnishings that has survived over the years.  Much of the other furniture in the home are very well done Stickley reproductions.

As an interesting side note, one of the ticket booths from the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago sits in the yard of the Hills-DeCaro House.  

***Unless otherwise cited, much of the factual information about this house comes from the Wright Plus research captain, Jack Lesniak.

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