Age and beauty converge in livable landmark home
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Age and beauty converge in livable landmark home

Jun 13, 2023

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The RoundTable’s Two-Minute House Walk column takes readers inside some of Evanston’s most distinctive dwellings. We aim to showcase the history, style, architecture and design of homes throughout the city, from grand lakefront residences to cozy coach houses, modern apartments and everything in between.

While the Great War raged overseas, Standard Steel Car Co. executive Jesse A. Vail made a fortune selling rail cars to the French and commissioned a splendid Renaissance revival house on the southeast side of Evanston. Built in 1915, the landmark home was designed by noted architect Lawrence Gustav Hallberg and features a stucco exterior, graceful arched windows and pleasingly symmetrical proportions.

More than 100 years later, the original footprint of the home remains unaltered, demonstrating the lasting power of good design. There is no cavernous great room addition or sprawling primary bedroom suite with dual bathrooms. Decorative updates have been executed with a spirit of restrained elegance and respect for Hallberg’s vision.

The six-bedroom, three-story house sheltered Vail and his family comfortably for many years. After the United States entered World War I in 1917, the homeowner shifted his focus to the production of ordnance for the army and his company’s Hammond, Indiana, facility began to churn out military railway cars, shell forgings and 240 mm Howitzer carriages. Two years later, when the war had ended, Vail would be called upon to testify before Congress during an investigation of military suppliers suspected of overcharging the U.S. government.

Another early occupant of the house displayed a different sort of ingenuity as he earned his living. Clayton “Carr” Sherman was a 1925 Princeton graduate and one of the founders of the H.P. Smith Paper Co. Under his guidance, the firm led in the commercial development of polyethylene-coated paper, which is still widely used in the production of milk cartons today. Census records from 1940 indicate Sherman was unmarried and lived in the residence with his parents and two servants.

Currently, there are no live-in servants at the historic home. Owners Lou and Rita Maltezos share the space with dogs Archie and Annika and a cat named Felix. Their furry companions have not been trained to iron the linens or serve afternoon tea, but Archie is reportedly adept at fetch.

The couple bought the house in 2011 when their two children were still young, and the family had begun to outgrow their modest home near Lighthouse Beach.

Finding the property, Rita Maltezos recalled, was more serendipitous than intentional: Her mother-in-law was working as a real estate agent at the time and had arranged a tour of the house next door, which was also designed by Hallberg and had recently come on the market.

“It was pretty on the outside,” said Maltezos, “and it’s gorgeous now, but it was a total gut job. I didn’t even go up to see the second floor.” Many of the dwelling’s details, including the stucco exterior, decorative hall skylight and basic floor plan mirror those of her current home. As the pair were exiting the extreme fixer-upper, they noticed a real estate agent posting a sign in the neighboring yard. She refused to give Maltezos a sneak preview but invited her back for the Sunday open house.

“We came Sunday morning, walked through and put an offer on it that day,” said Maltezos. “We moved right in.” She and her husband were drawn to the historic details and fine bones of the house. The home had been well-maintained and required only minimal updating.

For decorating advice, Maltezos sought assistance from Annette LeCompte Interiors, an Evanston-based design firm. The couple had lived in France for several years and collected antiques and artwork that required an appropriate backdrop.

“We wanted the décor to revolve around some of the pieces we bought in France,” she said. “Our taste is pretty old-fashioned.”

LeCompte and Maltezos settled on a traditional look with a contemporary twist. In the black-and-white tiled entryway, boldly patterned Thibaut wallpaper sets a playful tone that continues into the grand foyer, where a stylish cheetah-patterned stair runner demands a second look. The powder room is painted in deep aubergine and embellished with brass fixtures and a whimsical assortment of horse prints.

In the living room, gleaming walnut paneling is adorned with part of the couple’s substantial collection of French artwork, most of it dating from the 1920s and ‘30s. French doors open onto a light-filled sunroom, where deep indigo walls are offset by bright white millwork. An oversized orb pendant from Design Within Reach provides additional illumination and drama.

Maltezos noted that they have made many cosmetic improvements to the home through the years, but the floor plan first conceived by Hallberg has remained intact. Each of the four baths have been redone and every room has been repainted. A major renovation of the kitchen, completed in 2019, is noteworthy for the understated luxury of the finishes and emphasis on utility. In the adjacent family room, an original blueprint of the 1915 residence hangs on the wall in a handsome frame – a testament to design that endures.

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Nancy McLaughlin is an Evanston-based freelance writer who has a fascination for the everyday events that shape our community in extraordinary ways. She covers human interest stories for the RoundTable. More by Nancy McLaughlin

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