DOES THE NAME RICHARD H. DRIEHAUS ring a bell? In recent years, the Chicago entrepreneur has given his support to a succession of high-profile architecture initiatives, including an award for classical architecture administered by the University of Notre Dame. Driehaus' latest foray is a museum of 19th century art and design housed in a freshly restored mansion off the Miracle Mile in downtown Chicago.
The mansion was built for wealthy liquor merchant Samuel Mayo Nickerson. His architect was the little-remembered firm of Burling and Whitehouse, which may seem a deficit for a house museum in Chicago, given the city's publicly accessible residences by such notables as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright. But the interest of the mansion's architecture, restored by Antunovich Associates, far exceeds the prestige of the designer originally responsible for it. Nickerson spent $450,000 in 1883 dollars on construction, and the house's sober sandstone façade conceals period interiors that are among the most lavish to survive in the city.
Cabinetmaker William August Fiedler was responsible for most of the interior appointments, a curious mix of Arts and Crafts, Moorish, Renaissance Revival, and other styles. The front hall alone is clad in onyx, alabaster, and 17 different types of marble. Many rooms incorporate Tiffany lamps, chandeliers, and other objects from Driehaus' collection, as well as furniture original to the house.
“Good architecture brings pleasure,” says Driehaus. The mansion's eclecticism may not qualify as a contemporary crowd pleaser, but it was remarkable by the standards of the day: Inland Architect claimed the house “reached a standard of excellence never before attained in Chicago.”
The Richard H. Driehaus Museum will be open for limited hours through Sept. 1. Full operating hours will begin later this fall. 312-932-8665.