Please note that Willard House is closed for tours at this time due to interior restoration work. However, SEE BELOW for updates on progress and upcoming events.
Announcements and Updates
OK, we’ve left you in the dark for a while, for which we apologize. We took a bit of a summer vacation, but are back on the job now. Well, honestly, there wasn’t any summer vacation…the rooms are coming together and we are being a little coy in revealing what they look like in advance of our re-opening.
First off, all of the wallpaper has now been installed. Shawn Lawler, and others he has needed to recruit from time to time, has spent many days here measuring, cutting, wetting, pasting, papering, adjusting, smoothing, and finishing the various papers. We had a total of ten different wallpapers used in the four rooms. Depending on the paper, Shawn has had to use different techniques and even has to custom mix the paste. One of the biggest challenges for someone hanging a variety of papers with different patterns is deciding how to lay out the initial piece so that the rest of the room will have symmetry and the pattern will line up in an aesthetic and historic manner. (A word of caution: If you think you can watch one episode on HGTV and then hang wallpaper yourself, you can’t.)
Following Shawn was the arrival of Bonnie Jakobs, a decorative finishes expert. Bonnie’s work is all in the Dining Room. The walls between the chair rail and picture rail are papered with anaglypta, a textured paper. The paper was then painted by a couple of gents from Heffernan Painting Services. Bonnie followed up by dry brushing a metallic powder to highlight the texture of the anaglypta. The lower walls below the chair rail are a textured plaster, with random patterns and swirls. There were a few repairs done by the folks at Heffernan and then the walls were repainted. The walls had been painted a dark brown, but the analysis done by the master’s class in Historic Preservation from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago showed that the walls were originally painted a deep violet/burgundy color with a bronze metallic powder embedded. (Bronzing powder is seen in the picture rail and chair rail, as well.) Bonnie finished the walls by sponging a metallic solution onto the surface. Again, it is fascinating to see these experts apply their craft, as Bonnie had to adjust the amount of metallic material applied depending on whether there is more or less light on the surface. Overall, the effect is very intriguing, changing as you move through the room and as the light level changes during the day. Bonnie will be coming back to touch up the graining on the woodwork in the Dining Room. The Willards were a middle-class family of modest means. When Josiah Willard had Rest Cottage, the original part of the house, built in 1865, he used common practices of the day to make the house visually appealing without spending too much money. Almost all of the woodwork is of a non-decorative nature, e.g., pine or ash, and was intended to be covered in some way. (The only rich wood used is for the banister and railing on the staircase in the Hall.) Graining is a technique used in which a painted finish is applied to make the wood appear as if it is a higher-quality wood – in this case, it is grained to look like oak. Over time, the woodwork has taken its share of less-than-perfect repairs and Bonnie will take care of those issues.
Speaking of low-quality wood, the floors are absolutely “construction grade” and were always intended to be covered with carpet. At the time, carpeting was much less expensive than having nice wood floors. We worked with the good folks at The English Wilton Company to pick the historic patterns and colors for each of the rooms, and the carpets were then loomed in England and shipped back to the States to be installed. Back in the day, there was only narrow loom carpet as opposed to today’s broadloom carpet. Looms could only produce carpet in sections 27 inches wide, whereas today’s broadloom carpets are one continuous piece, as large as the room it is intended to cover. The carpets therefore have to be sewn together in order to be installed. The material was shipped to Eagle Carpet Services to be sewn together in the approximate room sizes. However, most of the carpets consist of a “field” (the main middle part of the carpet) and a border of a different pattern that follows the walls. Similar to the wallpaper hanging, there is a lot of time and attention paid to measuring and laying out the carpet before the final cutting, sewing, and installation. Oh, and by the way, their job is complicated by the fact that this is a 150-year-old house and I can tell you there is not a straight line or ninety degree corner anywhere here!
Anyway, as a sneak peak, here are Randy and Dave from Eagle Carpet Services sewing the carpet in the Parlor prior to final fitting and installation.
So, if you’d like to see what the rooms like like when finished, see the Open House Chicago information in the events section below.
What: Evanston Public Library’s History Book Discussion Group
When: Wednesday, September 21, 2016, 7:00 pm
Where: Evanston Public Library, Main Branch, 1703 Orrington Avenue
What: Open House Chicago
When: Saturday and Sunday, October 15-16, 2016, 9:ooam-5:00 pm (last entry at 4:00 pm)
Where: Willard House, 1730 Chicago Avenue
Please go to our News & Events page for more details.
Featured Collections Object
This music box was given to Frances Willard as a memorial gift after Mother Willard passed away in 1892. It was made in Geneva, Switzerland and has a “double mandoline effect”. It was given to Willard in 1894 by Countess Somers, the mother of Willard’s close friend and British counterpart Lady Henry Somerset. Knowing that Willard thought of purchasing a small music box Countess Somers told her that she would like to give her a music box and she told her that she might select the music it should play. Willard at once said “I had not thought that such a thing were possible but if I can have just exactly the music I would most prize in a music box it would be the six hymns that Mother loved the best.” The list was furnished for the manufacturers as it appears in the music box, but when Lady Henry arranged the music she did not recollect that the English tune for “Nearer My God to Thee” is different from the American tune for that hymn, hence the one on the list is unfamiliar to most Americans.
You can listen to a recording of the music box by clicking on the Play button below.