Archives For Design

Visitors to the Driehaus Museum often cite the gallery as a favorite room with its marvelous stained glass dome and massive wood-burning fireplace. Lined with lacquered cherry bookcases and featuring an iridescent mosaic tile Art Nouveau surround, it is the one room in the mansion that was completely redecorated in 1901 thanks to the second owner, Lucius George Fisher Jr.Gallery, The Richard H. Driehaus Museum_Photo by Alexander Vertikoff, 2011

Perhaps Fisher wanted to put his own stamp on the Nickerson’s distinctive décor? Or did he just want a grand showcase for his collection of rare books and hunting memorabilia? Whatever his reasons, he hired one of the great Prairie School architects of the day, George Washington Maher.

George W. Maher

George W. Maher

Maher was born in Mill Creek, West Virginia in 1864. But by the age of thirteen he was living in Chicago and apprenticed to the architectural firm of Bauer and Hill. Thanks to the Fire of 1871, Chicago had become a center for innovative building design. After a stint with Joseph Silsbee where he worked as a draughtsman alongside Frank Lloyd Wright, Maher opened his own firm in 1888. Influenced by the styles of H. H. Richardson and Louis Sullivan, Maher’s houses reflect the “form follows function” dictum associated with Sullivan’s work. But while fellow architect Wright would follow the elaborate ornamentation of Sullivan’s cursive elements, Maher would eventually lean towards the Arts and Crafts movement in the houses he designed.

ely house

Ely House, Kenilworth, Illinois

hart house

Hart House, Kenilworth, Illinois

roe house


Beginning in 1893 with his own home in the northern suburb of Kenilworth, Maher went on to design forty distinctive houses there as well as several homes in Chicago’s historic Hutchinson Street District in Uptown. At the same time, he became allied with the developer of the Edgewater community on Chicago’s lakefront, producing a series of homes that still stand today on Sheridan Road.

pleasant home oak park

Pleasant Home, Oak Park, Illinois

But the most influential commission Maher would receive was from John Farson. The house now known as Pleasant Home in Oak Park, Illinois would establish the tenets of Prairie School design for posterity. Its success was copied time and again by other architects of the period.

At the same time, Maher was developing a unified design concept known as the Motif-Rhythm Theory. By incorporating an element in both the exterior and interior of the building—say a local plant, a geometric shape—he created some kind of decorative element throughout that ties the whole project together.

Maher Coffee Set

Maher silver coffee set.

Not only did Maher create plans for innovative and beautiful homes, he designed furniture, lamps, silverware and stained glass.

Many of his houses have distinctive windows that either he drew or commissioned from other firms such as Giannini and Hilgart, Healy and Millet, and Tiffany Studios.

Tiffany Window Winona National Bank

Maher designed Tiffany Window Winona National Bank

So the next time you visit the gallery, take a look at the detailed thistle frieze below the glass dome and the unifying design of the room with its carved lion heads by disciple and architect Robert Seyfarth. Take a moment to savor the genius of a unique artist, someone very much ahead of his time.


“We strongly advocate the use of different styles in different rooms, to avoid the monotonous effect invariably produced by the fanatic apostles of the so-called Eastlake or Modern Gothic. For the same reasons it will be necessary for articles of luxury, as Easels. Hanging Shelves, Cabinets, etc., to use motifs from the Mooresque, Byzantine, Japanese, etc., though diametrically opposed to the prevailing style of the room.” – August Fiedler

fielder pic

William August Fielder

The principal interior designer of the Nickerson Mansion was William August Fiedler. He was German, born at Elbing in 1842. August Fiedler as he would later come to be known studied architecture in his native country but immigrated to the United States in 1871. Like many of his fellow countrymen, he found his way to Chicago, taking advantage of the post Chicago Fire building boom. A perfectionist in his pursuit of quality, Fiedler began his career the way many architects of the period did–as an interior designer.



fieldler advertBy 1877, he had his own furniture business, A. Fiedler and Company at 24 - 26 Van Buren Street. As a decorator, Fieldler would leave behind a lasting legacy in the richly carved details of the Hegeler Carus Mansion in downstate LaSalle, Illinois, built between 1874-1876. The high finishes of his custom woodwork and furniture attracted the attention of Samuel Mayo Nickerson who hired him to design some of the rooms for his new home at 317 Erie Street in Chicago (now the Richard H. Driehaus Museum at 40 East Erie). fiedler dining room

Fiedler’s impeccable attention to the smallest elements of style shine. He created unique parquet flooring and architectural flourishes with such precision and beauty that he went bankrupt by not charging his wealthy clients enough to compensate for the quality work he produced.

Visitors to the Hegeler Carus Mansion will recognize many similarities between that home and the Nickerson’s Marble Palace. The hand turned columns and cornices of the two homes are reminiscent of each other as are the ornate carvings that surround the fireplaces. Fiedler’s innovative use of turned wood spindles, decorative mantels and wainscoting are common to both interiors.

millwork hegeler carus mansion

Millwork detail, Hegeler Carus Mansion

carved sideboard hegeler carus

Fiedler carved sideboard, Hegeler Carus Mansion


Parlor with parquet flooring and custom millwork, Hegeler Carus Mansion


Germania Hall now the Germania Club at Clark and Germania Place.

But August Fiedler also began to design buildings here in Chicago and around the Midwest. He completed the Germania Hall in 1888 along with fellow architect John Addison and built private homes in Blue Island and Milwaukee.


Moorish_palace_labyrinth,_august_fiedler_archIn 1893 when the World’s Fair drew the curious multitudes to the White City, one of the standout buildings was Fiedler’s Moorish Palace, patterned after the Alhambra of Spain. It was one of three pavilions Fiedler designed for the Colombian Exhibition.

Long time Chicagoans will remember Henrici’s Restaurant on Randolph Street, another Fiedler project. On the city’s Gold Coast, 1547 North Dearborn Parkway is another of his sumptuously detailed interiors replete with lavish woodcarvings in an 18,000 square foot city estate.

In 1893, Fiedler was named the first Chief Architect for the Chicago Board of Education. He supervised the construction of fifty-eight schools and designed many including Burley, Goethe, Eugene Field and Pullman.


Fiedler was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. He died in Chicago in 1903.


For information about our upcoming trip to the Hegeler Carus Mansion on Wednesday, June 4, please visit our website.




A. Fiedler and L. W. Murray, Artistic Furnishing and House Decoration, (C. H. Blakely & Co., printers, 1877)



Pier Carlo Bontempi’s mission to restore and elevate traditional architecture and urban planning is evident in this proposed project.

Pier Carlo Bontempi’s mission to restore and elevate traditional architecture and urban planning is evident in this proposed project.

“Reader, if you would seek his monument, look around you.” - Epitaph of classic English architect, Sir Christopher Wren

The Richard H. Driehaus Museum congratulates 2014 laureates Pier Carlo Bontempi and Yisan Ruan. The two honorees were awarded prizes for their contributions to the built environment during a public ceremony which took place at the John B. Murphy Memorial Auditorium on March 29.

The recipient of this year’s $200,000 Richard H. Driehaus Prize for Architecture at Notre Dame was presented to Italian architect Bontempi.

“I am most pleased with the selection of Pier Carlo Bontempi as the 2014 Richard H. Driehaus Prize laureate,” said Richard H. Driehaus, founder, chairman and chief investment officer of Chicago-based Driehaus Capital Management LLC. “His work has consistently responded to the unique qualities of historic environments as well as to the needs of modern society.”

Established in 2003 by the Notre Dame School of Architecture, the Richard H. Driehaus Prize is awarded to a living architect “whose work embodies the highest ideals of traditional and classical architecture in contemporary society, and creates a positive cultural, environmental and artistic impact.”

PLACE DE TOSCANE  "The project is situated in the Marne-la-Vallée district of Val d'Europe, between a large commercial centre and the Town Hall square. The scheme consists of a rectangular block whose centre contains an elliptical piazza similar in dimension to the Roman Amphitheatre in Lucca. "

“The project is situated in the Marne-la-Vallée district of Val d’Europe, between a large commercial centre and the Town Hall square. The scheme consists of a rectangular block whose centre contains an elliptical piazza similar in dimension to the Roman Amphitheatre in Lucca. “

The Driehaus Prize at the University of Notre Dame is accompanied by another important honor: the Henry Hope Reed Award. This award focuses on a non-architect whose work contributes to realm of classicism and tradition in architecture and urban planning. This year the $50,000 Henry Hope Reed Award was presented to Yisan Ruan, professor of architecture at Tongji University and a world-renowned preservationist.

“Through large-scale local interventions, Professor Ruan’s work has become a model for preservation that addresses context in the broadest sense of the term,” said Driehaus.

Both Bontempi and Ruan were on hand to receive their awards from Mr. Driehaus and the jury committee as part of a weekend long celebration that included a gala dinner the night before.

Learn more about Pier Carlo Bontempi here.

Learn more about the preservation efforts of Professor Yisan Ruan here.

Happy 166th Birthday to Louis Comfort Tiffany born February 18, 1848.

One wonders what gift would make this artist/impresario smile? In the years following his death in 1933, many of his iconic works were relegated to attics or dustbins. But following a renaissance of appreciation, Tiffany’s name and output are once again secure in the annals of art history.

So exactly how might Mr. Tiffany celebrate today? There are some hints in the fabulous, over the top fetes that became a part of his legacy. On the occasion of his 68th birthday in 1916, Tiffany threw a lavish party at his Madison Avenue studios in New York City complete with a masque in pantomime entitled The Quest for Beauty . A woman clad in white robes emerged onto the darkened stage and told the hushed spectators they would see “Genius in the form of an artist hunting for Beauty”. The actors then mimed a caveman drawing inspiration from a dancing flame of a fire.

Later after a toast by J. Alden Weir, president of the Academy of Design, Tiffany, in a speech to the 300 assembled celebrants, summed up the quest that was his lifelong ambition:

If I may be forgiven a word about my own work, I would merely say that I have always striven to fix beauty in wood or stone or glass or pottery, in oil or watercolor by using whatever seemed fittest for the expression of beauty; that has been my creed and I see no reason to change it. It seems as if the artists who place all their energies on technique have nothing left over for the more important matter — the pursuit of beauty.

Harper's Bazar, April, 1916

Harper’s Bazar, April, 1916

But that was just one of the many parties Tiffany threw in the cavernous space that was his studio and showroom. He had many theatrical events there in rooms heated by four huge fireplaces and lit with panels of vividly colored glass. It was the perfect artist’s loft to wow awestruck guests. Perhaps Tiffany’s most spectacular event was The Egyptian Fete of February 4, 1913. Invitations in hieroglyphs were sent written on papyrus scrolls. Four hundred attendees, attired in pre-approved period costumes including Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Dorothy Roosevelt and the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert de Forest stepped into “Alexandria” to witness a romantic encounter between Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Tiffany’s daughter Dorothy played one of the Queen’s attendants. One highlight was a suggestive dance performed by Ruth St. Denis who made a spectacular entrance unfurled from an Persian carpet. Catered by Delmonico’s restaurant, there was enough champagne to fuel some risqué behavior in the form of a rather uninhibited Turkey Trot. All of this sybaritic splendor was presided over by the artist himself garbed as an Eastern potentate.

Described in a gushing review by the New York Times, the late night bash was “one amazing riot of color” and “it eclipsed any fancy dress function ever presented in New York“. Even the Pinkerton security force wore Oriental disguise as they stood in silent watch over the treasures in the event space.

So perhaps today’s celebration although heartfelt might be a bit more restrained? How about a multi-layered cake with gloriously colored fondant stained glass panels and jewel-like flowers wrapped in iridescent Favrile spun sugar and lit with 166 candles? To quote the master: “I want to protest that beauty can be found in any material given the proper channel.” 

Many happy returns Louis Comfort Tiffany!


To read the article in the April 1916 issue of Harper’s Bazar click here.


Louis Comfort Tiffany and Laurelton Hall: An Artist’s Country Estate, Elizabeth Hutchinson, ed. (Metropolitan Museum of Art,  2006)
The International Studio, Volumes 57-58,  John Lane Company, 1915
Egyptian Fete A Fine Spectacle NYT February 5, 1913
(Art-The Quest for Beauty , An Address by Louis C. Tiffany) Art and Life, Volume 7, Issue 6 Author’s Bureau., 1916
 Behind Glass: A Biography of Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham By Michael John Burlingham  pp 130-131

As the Nickerson and Fisher families looked forward to their holiday seasons, they and other Gilded Age families would have enjoyed games, toys and books in their spare time.

Post-Civil War America was a time of rapid economic growth; the middle class was expanding while industrialization allowed for increased leisure time and expendable income.  Middle and upper class children enjoyed play time, and new books, toys and games were introduced to appeal to children of the era.  Many of which still captivate the young minds of today.


A portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne from the 1860s and “A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys”

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 publication A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys marked a change in American children’s literature.  Hawthorne observed his own children at play, seeing how their imaginations shaped their games.  He wanted to write a children’s book that would capture children’s imaginations and inspire them to read outside of school.  He decided to re-write six Greek myths and to incorporate children into the framing narratives.  The book was an immediate success and sparked a new publication trend for popular children’s books.  Authors like Louisa May Alcott, Lewis Carroll, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Rudyard Kipling, and Anna Sewall created stories especially for children.  In 1885, Robert Louis Stevenson published the still beloved A Child’s Garden of Verses, which continued Hawthorne’s focus on children’s imaginative play; Stevenson’s adventure stories like Treasure Island (1881) also sparked children’s imaginations.

LifePopular children’s games included marbles, checkers, Parcheesi, and cards.  Board games were first introduced in  the early part of the nineteenth century.  Milton Bradley and the Parker Brothers began their companies after the Civil War.  In 1860, Milton Bradley designed and produced the board game Life, which was an immediate success and remains so through the 21st century. George Parker published the first Parker Company/Parker Brothers game catalog in 1885.  Parker Brothers introduced the game Office Boy in 1889.  Similar to Milton Bradley’s Life, Office Boy had players begin as office boys at a company and work at various jobs trying to become head of the firm.  The 1894 Parker Brothers catalog included the World’s Fair Game, sure to be popular with Chicagoans.

tootsie toys

A variety of toys were manufactured in Chicago.  The toys reflected Chicago’s reputation as a manufacturing and architectural center.  Tootsietoys may have been the most popular, yet unknown, manufacturer of toys in Chicago.  The company created the miniature metal toys found in Cracker Jack boxes.  The Linotype machines used to stamp the toys were originally seen at the World’s Columbian Exposition.  Charles O. Dowst saw the machines being used to stamp metal parts for machines and realized that the same machine could be used to mass produce metal toys.  Some of the toys were miniature versions of the machines or products that Chicago’s factories produced, like cars, trains, and tractors.


Two of Chicago’s best known toys were made of wood:  Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs.  Both allow children to build their own versions of skyscrapers and other buildings seen in Chicago.  Charles Pajeau invented Tinkertoys in 1914 in Evanston.  Pajeau was a stone mason by trade and set out to design and market a toy that would inspire the imagination.  John Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright, invented Lincoln Logs in 1918.  His inspiration for the toy came a few years earlier while visiting Tokyo, Japan with his father.  The young Mr. Wright observed workers building the Imperial Hotel, they used a revolutionary technique of interlocking beams John Wright later used to design Lincoln Logs.



For the Museum Store, L’Esperance Tile was commissioned to craft two custom tiles inspired by the J. & J. G. Low Art Tile Works tiles found in the Driehaus Museum—which, with their embossed natural details, jewel-toned colors, and sheen, are among the most stunning surviving elements of the this 1883 mansion.

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In honor of the Driehaus Museum’s five-year anniversary, we’re taking a look at a letter from the archives.

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How Daniel H. Burnham’s vision of Chicago as the City Beautiful changed the neighborhood surrounding the Driehaus Museum.

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Our first blog post dedicated to the Museum’s first exhibition! Featuring a Q&A with the exhibition curator, David A. Hanks.

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Ever wonder why the former living quarters on the Driehaus Museum’s second floor don’t look like bedrooms anymore?

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