“I learned to walk holding on to the table that’s in the living room right now,” says Sarah, the owner of the house at 604 Onondaga Drive in North Barrington.
And right here, I should tell you that already, I’ve lied to you. Sort of.
While it’s true that the home – a sprawling Mid-Century Modern ranch in the private, quiet western part of the Biltmore subdivision – has never before been on the market, technically the home has had two owners. Sarah’s parents had the house built in 1960, and when they passed away, she and her brother inherited the house, after which she bought it from him and has owned it since, slowly and methodically getting it ready for its next owners.
“My parents were living in Arlington Heights,” says Sarah. “They came out to Biltmore because my Dad knew the area a bit as my Grandpa used to come out this way to go fishing. At the time, lots of the homes in Biltmore were summer homes to escape the heat in the city. Since they were in Arlington Heights, Barrington was not that far away.”
The house is set on a beautiful lot that’s a bit over 6/10ths of an acre, populated by gorgeous, mature trees. And while I haven’t been able to find out much about Architect Charles Sexton Catlin, I can tell you that his design is deceptively clever in the way that makes people believe that modern homes are easy to design because of their seeming simplicity.
Oriented with a bedroom wing running front to back and the original living wing running side to side, the house has been expanded over the years to add more space, making it an exceptional home for entertaining, with some great modern details.
“The house was smaller and much simpler regarding the grounds and plantings,” continues Sarah, “and the color has always been green, although this is a little darker than than the original version. The house was first built with a carport, and some of the current spaces didn’t exist yet.”
Before we talk about what’s new, let’s talk about the house in general. Right off the bat, you’ll notice the great MCM vibe of the house, with its intersecting simple gabled rooflines, and the cool modern lattice work over the front porch area. And if you’re always secretly hoping that EVERY ranch with simple gabled roofs has vaulted ceilings, you won’t be disappointed. Almost every space in the house has them, and they make the home’s 2,900+ square feet seem that much bigger.
Enter through the front door and immediately the ceilings start to rise over an exposed brick partial wall that separates the foyer from the sunken Living Room, and that continues into the fireplace and chimney stack. Hidden valance lighting above you illuminates the ceiling as it rises up to a large wooden beam going side to side at the ceiling’s peak. Head down into the Living Room and you’ll see that fantastic brick corner fireplace, and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows offering views out into the back yard over the brick paver patio.
Underfoot, parquet floors lead toward open steps to the Dining Room, where an illuminated display case adorns one wall, and a built-in, two-sided buffet separates the Dining Room from the Lower Lounge.
“The Lower Lounge didn’t exist originally,” says Sarah. “That was put in in 1963, and probably at that time is when they enclosed the carport to turn it into a garage. So that area was added and I’m guessing that’s when the red fireplace was added. This was one of my favorite places to spend time when I was a kid.”
The red fireplace is one of two that were probably made by Majestic. The red one here in the Lower Lounge, and then a white one in the Family Room that was added about ten years later. In between those two spaces is the Bar area, which was always part of the house. Complete with built-in liquor cabinet, built-in bookshelves, more cabinets and a hide-a-way sink, it’s a bar that would’ve served even Don Draper well.
Around the corner past a large storage closet that’s actually been used as a small office cubby in the past, and into the Family Room, then…
“At the same time that my parents added the Family Room,” continues Sarah, “they also added the workroom in the back, which has an area for the 2nd furnace & A/C equipment for this end of the house. It also means that even though the workroom is only accessible from outside, it can be used year-round, since it’s both heated and cooled.”
Head back the other way, and you’ll be in the sun-lit Breakfast Room that’s part of the kitchen. But this space was originally configured differently, with some of it being a greenhouse and some of it being the laundry. Now, the Breakfast Room makes the kitchen much more special and open feeling, thanks to the depth of the space, additional cabinet & counter space, and all those windows and skylights!
“Mostly these days I’m in the kitchen,” says Sarah. “I like the skylights and it’s pretty when it snows to open the blinds and watch the snow fall on you.”
(The laundry is now tucked into the closet area with the accordion door at the back of the Breakfast Room, conveniently located in the part of the house where people spend most of their time.)
The main part of the kitchen still has its Mutschler cabinets, which have the boxes floating above the floor on steel legs, giving them a very modern, furniture-like look. And you’ll also spot the original pulls on many of the cabinets, with a combination of wood handles with metal details…a beautiful touch!
Continue on back past the entryway and up a couple of steps into the bedroom wing, and you’ll first come to the hall bath on the right, which was originally a little bit smaller, but was enlarged when a smaller furnace (thanks, technology!) allowed them to steal some space for the utility closet nextdoor.
The bedrooms are a decent size for a 1960 home, with the smallest currently being used as an office. The corner bedroom is quite a bit bigger, and Sarah recalls a fun story about this bedroom from when she and her brother were kids.
“During the week when my Dad would travel,” she begins, “we would build Hot Wheels tracks starting at the top of my brother’s bunk bed. This was in the larger kid bedroom at the end of the hallway. The track would go down the hall through the kitchen, curve into the dining room, down the step, curve again, do a loop and go up the next step shooting into the hallway past the bar and ending in the little bathroom.”
(if you’re like me, you can picture and hear that whole setup in your head!)
Further down the hall is the Primary Suite, which was also expanded at some point.
“My parents’ bedroom was bumped out, their bathroom reconfigured and the deck added I think in the early ’80s,” says Sarah. “And then sometime between the bedroom addition and the kitchen, which was later in the ’80s, they replaced the original gravel driveway with the red brick driveway that’s still here today.”
You don’t have to spend much time talking with Sarah to realize that her most prized memories of the house from when she was a kid have to do with the yard, and all the nature surrounding the home.
“As kids it was a great neighborhood to grow up in,” she says. “There was lots to explore in the surrounding woods. A friend and I had a ‘Reading Tree’ in the woods behind the house. When we were in Junior High we would go out there and climb the tree and sit and read. We learned to ride our bikes starting at the top of ‘the hill’ where my neighbor’s driveway is and Dad would give us a shove and we rolled down the hill often crashing into the big oak at the beginning of the driveway.
“Animals we saw when we were young were pheasants, owls, foxes, opossum, raccoons, garter snakes, groundhogs and lots of different birds,” continues Sarah. “My Mother was a bird lover and we had several bird feeders. Today the deer population is huge, we have coyote, foxes, raccoons…still so many animals around!”
The back yard isn’t just great for all the nature that surrounds the house, but also because of the deck and the patio, both of which serve to make for fantastic outdoor entertaining spaces.
“I remember lots of BBQ parties in the backyard,” says Sarah. “Once a year we had an Oktoberfest party with Wisconsin Brats, red cabbage and lots of beer for the grownups. For my brother’s wedding rehearsal dinner, we had a German band on the patio. It rained and we wrapped the band in plastic and everyone wore plastic german style hats. This house is so wonderful for entertaining, whether inside or out.”
I asked Sarah if her parents had specifically wanted a modern home when they contacted Charles Sexton Catlin about designing a house for them.
“I think they wanted a modern home and that was their brief to the architect,” she says. “We were never fans of colonial homes, which are plentiful in the area. Also my parents always liked modern and contemporary design. A friend recently told me that my Mother taught her about Danish design and furniture. I never knew my Mom was that knowledgeable on the subject, but apparently, yes, it was the style at the time, but was also a style they always liked.”
It’s clear that much of that appreciation for modernism rubbed off on Sarah, too, with the house beautifully incorporating some really great modern chairs, tables, etc. It’s Sarah’s love for the style, and for the house itself, that has driven her to take such good care of it since she became the home’s owner.
“I began replacing and upgrading the windows in 2007 and started with the Living Room,” says Sarah. “I upgraded to Pella Architectural series with the aluminum cladding over the wood frames. I put in larger windows to open the views.
“The second window replacement phase was the kitchen skylights and windows across the front and over the sink in 2009. That is also when I covered the old greenhouse bins by adding the wood covering.
“A lot of the wood floors were refinished and the tile in the entryways, kitchen and hallway were redone in 2013.
“In 2015 I had a new modified bitumen roof put on to replace the old tar & gravel roof, and I had them increase the roof insulation at the same time.
“The third window phase was in 2016 & 2017… I replaced all remaining windows except the white fireplace room, since those were much newer anyway, the garage windows and the two tinted windows in the master bedroom and bath.”
Sarah’s improvements didn’t end there. She’s repainted much of the interior, has done a tremendous amount of gorgeous landscaping, and most recently, in August of 2020, replaced both furnaces, both A/C units and the hot water heaters as well, so all of the HVAC equipment is brand new.
“I really hope whoever buys this house will love it as much as me and my family have over the years,” says Sarah. “It’s such a well-designed house. We always got compliments from people who worked on it, because Catlin’s original design was so conducive to the house being added onto without looking strange. He designed such a straightforward home that it was easy to make it bigger and still look and feel cohesive. And it’s a fantastic house for entertaining, which is probably why I remember there always being lots of parties. The great thing about the house is you can have 40 or 50 guests easily and never feel crowded. It circulates so well from the Living Room to the Dining Room and around the Lower Lounge and the Bar back to the Kitchen, with the Family Room where the white fireplace is being a little bit more of an intimate, private space. Keeping flow in mind was important to my parents as they did the various additions.”
As Sarah and her family will soon be living overseas, it’s time for her to pass along her family home to its next stewards.
“This is a great house to live in and enjoy the outdoors,” says Sarah. “The lack of a second floor and basement makes it very comfortable to move between the inside and outside, and to keep clean!” she says with a laugh. “There’s more storage than one realizes, and it’s a very peaceful and private lot. As you can see, I think this is a very special place.”
I would agree completely with Sarah on that point for sure.
[UPDATE: This property sold on October 23rd, 2020]
If you’d like to see the listing for 604 Onondaga Drive, follow this link. To arrange for a private showing, have your agent schedule it with me, or call me at 312.907.4085 or send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To view the full gallery, click on any of the images below.