It takes a special kind of person to want to own a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Oh sure, you think, who wouldn’t?
But time hasn’t always been kind to Wright’s homes, which often employed novel structural solutions, special materials and custom furniture and finishes. The size of the homes, particularly during Wright’s Prairie-style period, add to the expense for maintenance and restoration.
And because those homes are often located in well-to-do communities, such as Oak Park, River Forest and Riverside, the large properties are simply expensive to own from a property tax perspective.
So when Dean Eastman decided to tackle restoring the public wing of Wright’s landmark Coonley Estate — essentially the capstone of the Prairie-style era — he was taking on a historic task.
He leaves a historic legacy, transforming a house that had been threatened with demolition — by fire and by unsympathetic maintenance over decades — into a museum-quality showplace.
Eastman’s meticulous research led to a breathtaking restoration of the public wing, and his decision to rescue the coach house and transform it and its surrounding gardens has helped not only keep the sense of the original estate intact, but has attracted other motivated owners to restore the bedroom wing of the estate.
It’s safe to say that the Coonley Estate hasn’t looked this good in more than 60 or 70 years.
The Eastmans in recent years have listed both the public wing and the coach house for sale, though neither is presently active. While it’s a bit hopeful to think there might be another Dean Eastman out there, we hope his grand legacy — his gift, really, to Riverside — will flourish in the future.