The question comes up occasionally. “Balch? Oak Park? Any relation to Oscar Balch?” Nope, no relation.
Frank Lloyd Wright left his family in 1909 and skipped off to Europe with Mama Borthwick, the wife of a client who had done the same to be with him. Scandalous! Upon their return, not many people were willing to work with Wright, but Oscar Balch hired him to build his home here in Oak Park on Kenilworth (a really lovely street in town). Balch was a decorator who had worked with him previously to build a storefront, and the new home was built in 1911 in the Prairie style that we now associate with Wright.
Brandon’s family is not related to him, and I had to convince him when we were kicking around baby names that Oscar was off the table for us because of the connection (or lack thereof). If we lived somewhere else, sure, but another Oak Park Oscar Balch of no relation? That’s weird, right? (He didn’t agree, but obviously we didn’t choose the name for either of our boys).
The first photo was one that I took last spring while walking in the neighborhood, and below, I’m including several photos from the real estate listing. The seller’s asking price is $1,250,000.
The right side of the floor plan above is the side that faces the street. The main entrance is hidden along the side of the house (a typical Wright design) — you walk along the driveway to get to it.
The kitchen is part of a new remodel and expansion, but done to mimic the FLW style. Many Wright homes in the area (and nationwide, I’m guessing) had been poorly remodeled in the past, and there are a lot of historic houses with cheap mid-century kitchens that look completely out of place and are now falling apart. The trend now that these homes are desirable (and expensive) again is to go with quality custom cabinets and finishes with natural wood finishes and earth tones.
Would you want to live in a house like this? The layout and details are so interesting, but the color scheme (which is period-appropriate) wouldn’t make me happy. I can appreciate it, but it’s not the kind of home you can put too much of yourself into. Or maybe you can? I suppose paint colors and furniture are non-permanent ways to customize any space, but it seems like one buys a Wright home to live with that style.
The real estate listing has more photos of the home, and you can read more about the history of the Oscar B. Balch house.