The Oscar B. Balch House is For Sale

The question comes up occasionally. “Balch? Oak Park? Any relation to Oscar Balch?” Nope, no relation.

The Oscar B. Balch House by Frank Lloyd Wright, Oak Park

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.

Oscar B. Balch House Interior

Oscar B. Balch House Interior
Oscar Balch House, Front and Back

Oscar Balch House Floor Plan

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.

Frank Lloyd Wright Oscar B. Balch House Kitchen

Oscar B. Balch House Remodeled Interior

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.

Oscar B. Balch House Bedroom, Frank Lloyd Wright, Oak Park

Oscar B. Balch House Bedrooms, Frank Lloyd Wright, Oak Park

The real estate listing has more photos of the home, and you can read more about the history of the Oscar B. Balch house.

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  • corrin
    March 28, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    I am a FLW groupie and would love to live in this house. I find the style very soothing and I’ve felt so at home in every single one of his homes that I’ve visited.

  • Celeste
    March 28, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    There’s a FLW house in the suburb just 20 minutes north of where I live in SLC and I’ve thought about what it would be like to live in a home designed by such a prominent architect.

    For me, it boils down to ownership. And I wouldn’t feel like I had complete ownership in the home–in some ways, it belongs to a certain place in American history, not just the person who bought it.

    I guess you could say that about many old homes, but FLW was just so special and influential in America, specifically!

    • Feisty Harriet
      March 28, 2016 at 3:58 pm

      I’ve totally toured that home!! I was perhaps too young to really appreciate it (maybe 12 or 13?), but my Dad used to live nearby and became friends with the owners. I had always loved architecture and so he arranged a little unofficial tour. :)


    • Making it Lovely
      March 29, 2016 at 11:13 pm

      Celeste, yes! That’s what it is. The owner is a caretaker, because the house is also owned in a way by its history.

  • Feisty Harriet
    March 28, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    I don’t know if this is still true, but part of the deal of having FLW design your home back in the day was that he also got to design the furnishings and their placement, and the homeowners were not to move them. I don’t remember what home it was, but FLW got so frustrated with the homeowners for moving the furniture around that he came and bolted it to the floor.


    • Making it Lovely
      March 29, 2016 at 11:14 pm

      Ha! That sounds about right for Wright. Yes, he did want to design and arrange all of the furniture inside. Haven’t heard the story of the bolts before though!

  • cara kuhl
    March 28, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    Hi Nicole ~ I grew up in Oak Park (though didn’t know your husband), and am in the process of moving back. My husband and I just purchased a 1921 Buurma house (actually in RF, right near the border of OP) and are in the process of restoring it. I discovered Making It Lovely around 2008, and became an avid reader for a while, as I was also blogging (about the Chicago food scene, which I no longer take much part in since I have all my pennies funneling to this house!) and found inspiration from your aesthetic and design as well as a bit of a home town connection. Now it’s been really neat to re-discover you and Making It Lovely again (which happened totally randomly through following an Internet rabbit hole one day), and at the same time I am embarking on this home project! So I guess I just wanted to pop out of the woodwork and say hi. Reading through posts about your Victorian inspired me to keep our back stairwell (we were debating about taking the stairs out to make room for a pantry), as one of the quirks and charm of these old houses.

    Thanks for being a long-standing blogger, a proud Oak Park resident, and inspiration for all things lovely. :)

    • Making it Lovely
      March 29, 2016 at 11:18 pm

      Thank you, you made my day! And it sounds like you’ve got an exciting project on your hands. I’d love to see what you’re up to if you ever feel like sending an email my way. Glad to hear you’re keeping the back stairs. We do use ours all the time — my kids especially like them.

  • Annie
    March 28, 2016 at 6:28 pm

    Oh, this post makes me miss living in Oak Park! (I lived in Chicago 2005-2009, Oak Park 2009-2011) This house, and a lot of others, on Kenilworth and adjacent streets were really inspirational. How lucky I was to get to walk the dog along the sidewalks in front of such magnificent homes! It’s great to see the inside of this particular Balch house, as it is distinct in my memory.

    I do wonder how FLW would have constructed kitchens for the modern family. I see that the new cabinet wood of this particular house remodel/additional “matches” the look of the home, but it still feels like a bunch of boxes stuck in a room, rather than something thoughtfully designed by an architect. I guess I’m a snob when it comes to these things – but no matter what, I’d welcome the chance to live in one of his homes, just for the experience, poorly remodeled or not.

    My favorite house of his is one I toured in Oregon – one of the Usonian designs. So simple and pared down compared to his more elaborate designs, but satisfying proportions, materials, placements, siting, etc., just like all his work.

    Long time reader, here, btw! Thanks for all the good work over the years!

    • Making it Lovely
      March 29, 2016 at 11:20 pm

      Yeah, the kitchen is interesting. It has the finishes you might expect and the same general style, but it is very much a kitchen of this time done to fit in with the home. I doubt most people would enjoy working in a kitchen with a design from 100 years ago though. We don’t. ;)

  • Kristina
    March 28, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    I grew up in a house that was made by one of FLW’s mentees, and while my parents tried to go all-in on on the Prairie style thing it isn’t totally restrictive – I got to paint my bedroom blue! I think it helped that my parents kept refusing to give the house a historical designation so we could still do whatever we wanted. It still affects me now, I always am looking to live in buildings that are different and unique.

    Kristina does the Internets

    • Making it Lovely
      March 29, 2016 at 11:22 pm

      Paint goes a LONG way towards personalization. Especially for a kid. I’m a big believer in letting kids have a say in their own spaces (even when it means I’m painting in colors I never would have chosen, *ahem*). It’s just paint! It’s easily reversible.

  • AnnWS
    March 28, 2016 at 8:36 pm

    I have always admired FLW homes, but wonder how livable they would be. The pictures in the listing show a remarkable collection of (mostly) green Arts & Crafts style pottery in all sizes. Beautiful!

    • Making it Lovely
      March 28, 2016 at 8:51 pm

      Teco pottery! It is to the well-off Oak Park homeowner what blue and white Chinoiserie is to the South. ;)

  • kristin w.
    March 29, 2016 at 9:36 am

    I grew up in one of FLW student’s homes. The same idea was implemented with our homes (it’s a community in Columbus, Ohio), and we NEVER changed a thing outside of the cushions for the furniture. It is a lovely house, but I still sweat when picking out a paint color because we generally had some version of white on the interior walls and kept the colors the same on the exterior. I love the house as an adult, but it was weird as a kid who didn’t appreciate the unique style.

    • Making it Lovely
      March 29, 2016 at 11:26 pm

      Brandon and his sisters grew up in Oak Park and they had friends that lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright home. He says the house was really cool to visit as a kid and it seemed like the people living there had fun. It was just a quirky house – when you’re a kid, you don’t know the provenence of the architecture.

  • doodletllc
    March 29, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    I’ve only seen a FLW home in Scottsdale (now a museum) and one of his rooms in the Met (NYC) – never thought about living in one…intimidating comes to mind. :)

  • Cynthia
    March 29, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    I believe she was known as Mamah, a nickname for Martha. Anyway, I have toured several FLW homes and while gorgeous, find the low ceilings and all that wood too overpowering. If you haven’t read Loving Frank by Nancy Horan yet, you must. It’s a real page-turner.

    • Making it Lovely
      March 29, 2016 at 11:28 pm

      Yes, short for Martha. I have a copy of the book that I keep meaning to read and as I was working on this post I remembered that I should go find it. It’s on the bookshelves in the library somewhere, most likely. I think it will be next, after I finish the couple of books I’m in the middle of now!

  • mjhooper2013
    March 29, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    Nothing like being owns by your house! No thanks, much as i admire the looks. I have to make my space by own, with books and knitting and craft stuff piled up everywhere. And my cottagey art wouldn’t fit……but it’s great to see what’s out there for the well-heeled….. LOL thanks for sharing…..

  • Kate
    March 30, 2016 at 5:41 am

    Oh! It’s these posts, Nicole, that always make me turn to my SF-born and raised husband and say “Babe, we gotta move to Chicago.” It’s not gonna happen, as we’ll be moving into his parents’ Victorian in town, down the road, but it’s fun to daydream about a different place, house, life… So awesome to see! Thanks for sharing!

  • Lucas
    March 30, 2016 at 9:15 am

    Have you checked out the renovation and interior design at the Emil Bach House in Roger’s Park? I think the concept for design and new furniture there was quality and true design integrity and I think it works with FLW’s (somewhat restrictive) architecture. They added bright, sculptural, modern furnishings and they seem really appropriate.


    • Kasey
      March 30, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      We were so close to having our wedding on the Emil Bach property. The renovations are so well done!

  • Kasey
    March 30, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    Another Oak Parker coming out of the woodwork. LOVE walking around this beautiful place as my fiance and I dream about the future. Such a great neighborhood & so many homes with incredible presence. Excited to experience the warmer months (moved from the city in December)!

  • Kari
    April 16, 2016 at 11:59 am

    While fascinating to “tour”, just can’t understand the appeal of this style. I like the character of the windows, but that’s about it.

    Mission style furniture = Ugggh!