Wright's Sheridan Rd House In Highland Park Chicago

Original Owner: Ward Willits

Address: 1445 Sheridan Road, Highland Park

Year Built: 1901

The Willits house is Wright’s first true Prairie style house, as such it is the culmination of the period of experimentation that Wright engaged in the previous few years.

The Willits house is cruciform in plan; one wing contains the porte cochere, entry and reception room, the large living room makes up another wing, with large art glass windows opening the room up to the yard beyond a walled terrace. The dining room, extended by a large porch, comprises the third wing; the fourth, towards the rear of the house, contains the kitchen and servants quarters. Each of the wings extends from the massive roman brick fireplace core, thus movement from one wing to another is along a diagonal line. Wright incorporates diagonals into several other places in his design – the dining room has a prow shaped end bay and another prow shaped projection, the reception room has a similar prow shaped bay, the art glass light over the entry stairway is rotated 45 degrees, again emphasizing the diagonal, and the terminating piers of the porte cochere (capped with prairie style urns) are offset from the end wall by 45 degrees.

The second floor of the house originally contained 5 bedrooms and a library over the south entrance. Instead of continuing the west bedroom (directly over the living room) the full width of the wing, Wright left space for second floor planters. The resulting space between the massive corner piers and the roof further emphasizes the wide, overhanging roof. The long, low roofs of the dining room wing, and porte cochere also contribute to the horizontal emphasis.

The house as originally built also had a gardener’s cottage with stables, also designed by Wright in the same style as the main residence. This has now been converted into a separate residence.

Ward Willits was the president of the Adams and Westlake Company, a brass and bronze foundry. Orlando Giannini, who did art glass designs and murals for Wright, worked for Adams and Westlake for a time; perhaps this is how Willits met Wright. In 1905, Willits and his wife accompanied Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife Catherine on Wright’s first trip to Japan. Ward Willits lived in this house until his death in 1951, aged 92.

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