Cheney Mansion Charm

This post was written by Kendra Melodia, Waterworks Chicago General Manager, who with her colleague Karen Trychta, took themselves on a Learning Journey for some extra inspiration. They certainly found it in the wonderful details of the Cheney House. See for yourself.

At Waterworks, we are encouraged to seek out sources of visual inspiration and cultural enrichment in our surrounding communities. I had a chance to do just that during a recent visit to the historic Cheney Mansion located in Oak Park, Illinois. Reminiscent of a gracious English country home, the house was designed for the C. E. Sharpe family in 1913 by architect Charles E. White, Jr., a graduate of MIT and a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1922 it was sold to the Dole family, whose niece, Elizabeth Cheney, took residence there upon Andrew Dole’s death. The 12,000 square foot home has six bedrooms, seven baths, servants’ quarters, a ballroom and a solarium; a coach house and greenhouse are located on the beautifully manicured grounds.

I was delighted to find so many original features of the home lovingly maintained, and was particularly drawn to the hard surfaces and the bathrooms. The baths offered thoughtful details such as carefully crafted corner pieces and finishing elements as well as a beautifully formed tile shelf that could easily be translated into a classic bathroom today. Other points of interest included a wonderful old bidet located in one bath with a complex and intimidating network of pipes and fittings, large scale water closet tanks and the vintage charm of the corner bathtubs.

The original flooring materials were unique and varied. The docent pointed out that the saw tooth patterned tile in the entryway was installed on a slight angle to gracefully draw those entering the home into the rooms surrounding the foyer.  Gold-toned ceramics clad one of the fireplaces, with an exquisitely veined marble on another. A favorite feature was the bright blue, over-sized hexagonal tile on the solarium floor, bordered by equally bright and festive emerald green tiles. The bold color and pattern perfectly suited this light and airy room.

Deeded to the Park District of Oak Park in 1975, the Cheney Mansion remained home to Elizabeth Cheney until she died in 1985. It now stands, as stated by a 1970 Survey of Historic Buildings, as a “design of first rank in architectural quality, significance, and originality.” I couldn’t agree more.

By Kendra Melodia, Waterworks General Manager, Chicago Merchandise Mart



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