“Before my parents had this house built, we lived in a little, perfectly rectangular 3-bedroom box by the Glenview Junior High,” says John Podulka, who was 10 years old when his parents, Gene and Wilma, moved them into the home at 1321 Sleepy Hollow Road in Glenview.
“Our old neighborhood was a mid-’50s development geared toward growing baby boom families. But with a 4th child born in 1961, we had outgrown it.”
At “the new house,” things were certainly different. It was built in the early ’60s and it was anything but a boring box of a house.
Striking from the street, the home was designed with a series of gables running front to back, giving the house a “zig zag roof” look. It’s especially appealing because, of all the types of roofs you’re likely to see on mid-century modern houses, this may be one of the least common.
And while it might look or even seem like a simple idea, it was very innovative for the time.
“The roof structure was based on the idea of bent plates forming structural beams that spanned from one end of the house to the other,” says Donald Sunshine. Sunshine was one half of the architecture firm Buderus & Sunshine, who designed the house for the Podulka’s growing family.
“These elements were prefabricated,” continues Sunshine, “brought to the site, and then crane installed.”
Sunshine apologized to me (unnecessarily) for not having much more info on the home, but it was his partner, Brooks Buderus, who was the lead on the design. Sadly, Mr. Buderus passed away in 1989.
Gene & Wilma had looked at some other homes in the area, and just weren’t impressed by what they were seeing.
“They were young and both very intelligent,” says John, “and they were done with cookie cutter homes, boring apartments and run of the mill designs.”
Gene was a stock market investor who had gotten his MBA in 1950 and worked as a securities analyst for a while before striking out on his own.
Wilma earned an MA in English in 1952 – while she was pregnant with John – and while she never had a paying job outside the home, she was very active in the League of Women Voters and in various school and other groups in the community.
The Podulkas had originally gone to another much larger architectural firm in Chicago that had been highly recommended to them. However, when the person they met with asked what their budget was and Gene gave him an answer, the gentleman informed Gene, with a polite smile, that they didn’t work on any projects of that scale.
Although we may never know which architecture firm that was, or what they would’ve designed for the Podulkas, what we do know is that the design that Gene & Wilma got is not only unique, but beautiful.
Buderus & Sunshine did mostly commercial and institutional work, including school and church buildings. While some of their works have since been demolished, others remain, such as the Our Lady of the Brook church on Dundee Road in Northbrook.
The Podulka’s house, like many of Buderus & Sunshine’s other works, is constructed primarily of brick. And thankfully, much of that brick is exposed inside the house as well.
You enter the home into the one section with a larger, higher gable than all the rest. This primary volume is set back from the rest of the house’s facade, so as to create a bit of a welcoming courtyard and provide some variation in the home’s front elevation.
Upon entering, you may notice the clever use of a false ceiling in the foyer, which gives way to the dramatic vaulted, wood-clad ceiling in the living room beyond the basement stairs. Even just in this entry way, there are so many great details that MCM architecture enthusiasts enjoy: The false ceiling, the wood slat screen separating the foyer from the basement stairs, exposed brick, the wood-clad vaulted ceilings, the “free standing” coat closet and more.
Venture into the Living Room and you’ll be able to see even more beautiful details, like the way the fascia for the foyer’s false ceiling wraps around to act as a valance for the living room’s drapes, hides valance lighting, and then forms another fascia at the back of the living room where another false ceiling cuts into the chimney stack and houses down lights for the built-in shelves on either side of the fireplace.
It’s a wonderful series of elements that may go unnoticed at first, but, if you’re like me, will make you smile every time you notice them again afterward.
At right around 1,800 square feet, the home packs a surprising amount of functionality into its footprint, especially considering it lives as a true ranch: Even the laundry is on the main level. But more on that later.
The main window lines of the house face north (the front) and south (back), but the living room has east and west facing walls of glass looking out to a patio and sunken terrace, respectively.
Off to one side of the living room at the front of the house are the dining area and the kitchen. The kitchen features walnut cabinetry that includes a panel and sliding door that can be opened or closed depending on whether you want privacy for the kitchen area.
Some cabinets facing the dining area have original, built-in organizers, and while neither the kitchen or dining area are huge, they’re both bright, thanks to large windows, and of course the clerestory windows in the gables as well.
Even as kids growing up in the house, John and his siblings recognized that their house was unique and special.
“I was very proud of our house and how different it was,” says John’s brother, Bill, the youngest of the four siblings. “I was happy that we lived in a place that was different. And it certainly made it easy to give people directions. We’d just tell them ‘go until you get to the house with the zigzag roof.'”
“The house never failed to get a reaction,” adds Becky, who was 6 when they moved in. “Especially the way our parents had the living room furnished. White Saarinen tulip tables with red upholstered tulip chairs, bright blue couch, black Saarinen womb chair and ottoman. It looked like something from ‘The Jetsons’ on TV!”
“We made jokes about our house being ‘the house of seven gables’,” says John. “Mom was a lit major. But we didn’t draw any connection to Hawthorne’s Gothic novel of course. We just happened to have seven gables on our house.”
The two gables at the east end of the house cover the garage, and even there, the garage enjoys natural light from the clerestory gable windows.
Heading the other direction from the foyer takes you down the bedroom hallway, with three bedrooms along the front of the house. As with the common spaces, the private rooms enjoy vaulted, wood-clad ceilings, and every bedroom has a built in desk as well.
“My favorite room was my bedroom, because it was mine,” says Bill. “The long wall-to-wall desk was my workspace, with microscope, chemistry sets and electrical wires and doodads along most of it and just the deskwell left open for books and homework.”
On the back side of the bedroom hallway are the full bath shared by those three bedrooms, as well as the laundry room which, because of its placement between two gables, ends up having a butterfly-style ceiling.
Finally, at the far end of the bedroom hallway at the back of the house is what was Gene & Wilma’s Primary Suite. The bedroom feels quite spacious for a home of its size, with a wardrobe area, private en-suite bathroom, and a wall of glass facing east into the sunken terrace.
“One of the interesting things about the house,” says Bill, “is that the door knobs are all set higher than normal. I was always told that was a safety precaution to prevent us youngest ones, namely me and Laura, from getting out until we were older.”
But Becky heard a different story about them: “The story that I remember is that our progressive-minded Dad and the architect felt it was a more natural height to reach for.”
Whichever happens to be true, it’s another interesting detail about the Podulka’s home.
And then there’s the stairway to the basement, with its wood slat screen at the front and matching balusters all the way around. The basement is just underneath the home’s largest volume, with a family room (including a second fireplace) under the living room, and a mechanical room under the entry foyer.
“The basement was really for TV, although it was just big enough for us to put in a ping pong table at one point, too,” says John.
All of the Podulka’s kids have fond memories of times spent in the basement, it seems.
“In the basement, the cabinets were made special so that Becky and I could have our dollhouses that we could just pull out,” says Laura, who was just 3 when the family moved in.
“I think I spent the most time in the basement,” adds Bill. “That’s where we built towers with blocks, set up Hot Wheels tracks, made forts out of cushions and had sleepovers.”
But if the basement was practically the “designated kid zone,” the living room seems to be one of the most popular spaces in the house, for some obvious reasons and some specific ones, too…
“My favorite room in the house, and the favorite room of many of my friends and relatives, was undoubtedly the living room, with its floor to ceiling windows on two sides, the fireplace, and high vaulted ceiling,” says Becky. “No matter the season, it was beautiful to curl up in there and look out into the back yard and the sunken patio.”
Bill mentions another benefit to the Living Room’s high ceilings: “The huge vaulted ceiling in the living room allowed for very tall Christmas trees. Our tree was always taller than any of my friends had.”
“In the early years for the holidays we had our tree in a corner of the living room,” adds Laura. “I remember tinsel on the tree and stockings hung on the posts by the stairs. And later, we’d have Easter egg hunts in the house, too.”
“I have great memories of the living room and dining room,” says John. “Those are the family spaces where we had time both alone and with each other, with grandparents and cousins. Cooking, eating, celebrating. Fires in the fireplace.”
Outside, the yard also receives much love from the siblings who grew up there. Set on a large corner lot close to Sleepy Hollow Park, you’ll note that the home’s address is on Sleepy Hollow Road, but it faces (and its driveway is on) Stevens Drive.
“The corner lot was great for games,” says Bill. “We had the premiere croquet layout in the neighborhood!”
“Yes!” agrees Laura. “Not just croquet, but playing tag in the side yard and just blowing bubbles outside when the weather was nice.”
“That side yard, to the west of the house, was great for playing games!” adds Becky. “It alternated between croquet, badminton and, in later years, volleyball.”
The sunken terrace between the Primary Suite and the living room used to contain Wilma’s rose garden, among other things. And the landscaping around the patio on the other side of the living room is just beautiful.
Now that both Wilma and Gene have passed, the Podulka siblings are selling the home their parents had built for their young family 60 years ago.
“It’s bittersweet of course,” says John, “since we all have so many fond memories of the home and our time growing up there.”
“We’re spread all over the country these days,” adds Becky, “but the house will always feel like home to us, I think. It was our parents’ dream house, and they loved living in it. We all did.”
1321 Sleepy Hollow Road is available for the first time ever.
NOTE: This property has since sold.
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