Trio of comfort, convenience, character

Renovations to 130-year-old home preserve its history, make it livable for family of five

Series: Hinsdale legacies | Story 10

John Charles Fremont Merrill probably wouldn't recognize today the house Adolph Froscher built for him in 1892 at 222 E. Sixth St.

Merrill, secretary of the Chicago Board of Trade, was a native New Yorker who moved to Illinois in 1873 as a grain buyer. After moving to Hinsdale with his family, he went on to serve as a village trustee from 1894-98 and village president from 1902-04. He was prominent in the grain market and a confidential advisor to Herbert Hoover.

Years later, the parents of a future village president, W.B. Martin Gross, changed the home from its Queen Anne appearance to a classical revival style.

"During the 1940s, the Gross family made several significant alterations to the home, removing the turret on the northeast corner and the porte cochere on the west, enclosing the back porch and tearing down the carriage house that was at the rear of the property," research from the Hinsdale Historical Society indicates. "Most of the features on the present house, including the front portico and entry, side sun porch, etc., would be considered historic alterations."

A rear addition, changes to the second-story sun porch and the addition of a one-story attached garage are among the nonhistoric alterations.

"While the structure has been altered beyond recognition, the original structure does exist beneath its modern interior," the research states.

Even with those significant alterations, the home has character that can't be found in new construction, said Lael Falls, who moved to the house with her husband, Colin, and their sons in 2019.

Lael, a native of Wichita, Kan., and Colin, who grew up in Park Ridge, had two boys and a third child on the way when they decided to move out of their Chicago condo. Lael's best friend had recently moved here, and she visited for the first time to attend her friend's daughter's birthday party.

"I just kind of fell in love with Hinsdale. Three months later we bought this house," she said. "I always knew I wanted an older home for my forever home."

She said she loves having 120-year old elm trees on her property, seeing old photos of the home and knowing that Herbert Hoover once dined in her living room.

"I think for me it's not necessarily the historical facts, it's just the feeling," she said. "I truly believe there is a warmth to this home because of how many stories must have (made) been here."

The Falls have added their own touches to the home, including turning the screened porch on the east side of the house into a four-season sunroom.

"They call it the locker room or the sports room," she said of her husband and sons - Jack, 6, Ryan, 5, and Graham, 3 - who often can be found watching games on the big screen TV that dominates one wall.

A primary bedroom suite on the second floor and a new patio were part of the renovation as well. The previous owners, Steven and Amy Louis, added a kitchen and great room while they owned the home from 2000-19.

"This wonderful kitchen was here," Falls said. "It's such a great family house. It's so livable and cozy and functional."

The home also has been redecorated the interior from floor to ceiling. Falls pointed to the pattern painted on the dining room's original hardwood floors.

"This may be my favorite thing we did," she said.

Falls credits her decorator for helping her create a space with a timeless feel.

So when Falls was asked to have her home featured on the Hinsdale Historical Society's Kitchen Walk Saturday - whose theme is Timeless Tradition - she agreed. She and her husband also requested and were granted inclusion on the village's Historically Significant Structures Property List.

Her goal is to show others that preserving an old home is worthwhile.

"I get so sad when I see all these new houses going up - that to me look all the same - when Hinsdale is so eclectic and beautiful and charming," she said. "I want to be part of anything I can to encourage other people to try."

In addition to being completely happy in her home, Falls enjoys living in the village in which it is located.

"I love Hinsdale so much," she said. "My husband and I drive through Hinsdale and say, 'This is the cutest town.' We're so lucky we're living the American dream."

And one day she hopes another family will benefit from the investment she and her husband have made here.

"I'm really happy to save a house like this and keep passing it down," she said.