An occasionally updated chronicle of estate sales in the city and suburbs of Chicago.

"It's such a guilty pleasure..." Lynne Stiefel, Pioneer Press

Monday, March 1, 2010

ESS Greatest Hits: Crumbling Winnetka Colonial

While Estate Sale Stories is enjoying a little siesta, we're rerunning some of our favorite posts from the past. We'll be back on Monday, March 8 with new posts. Thanks for stopping by!

Who knows if houses can actually be haunted? What I do know is that some houses are certainly haunting. This one is proof.

Just walking up the circular drive I could tell it had seen better days, and that those days were somewhere in the distant past. Bricks were stripped of paint, the mortar worn away by who knows how many storms. The roof was rough and patchy. The front porch sagged. Inside I found a rambling mansion frozen in time, except for all the decay.

Somehow, parts of the main floor had managed to maintain a bit of their grandeur. This sun room still seemed welcoming despite all the dust and dirt.

Contrary to most older homes, the kitchen was actually one of the nicer rooms. Of all of them, it looked like it had been decorated most recently -- about forty years ago.

Two service kitchens occupied the space leading toward the dining room. The second had a wet bar, shown above. The dining room itself was generous, and I got the impression that someone had enjoyed hosting parties and celebrations here, once upon a time.

The glassware was another clue that entertaining had been a favorite activity. It was everywhere. Lined up in open cupboards...

... on counter tops...

... and tables.

The public spaces downstairs also included a formal living room with a grand piano, and a clubby, wood-paneled den. I could imagine a family watching TV there, or gathered around the game table.

The private spaces upstairs told a different story. Three main hallways cut through the second floor, and each one had several rooms off of it.

This suite -- with a sitting, dressing and bedroom -- was the strangest. It must have belonged to the lady of the house. I don't know what was more upsetting: the extreme wear and tear, all the personal items she'd left behind, or the fact that her presence was still so strong.

Here's the sitting room. I bet she read here at night, before going to bed, and planned the parties for downstairs during the day.

The sitting room again, from the opposite angle. All the clutter and mess of an estate sale didn't do this room any favors, but even if it had been in perfect order, the sense of decline was still evident.

There was water damage everywhere, and the carpet was so badly worn I could see the backing. Even that was pretty threadbare.

Here's the dressing room. The closet behind me was enormous, and oddly empty.

Pictures of children -- probably from fifty years ago -- still hung on the bedroom walls. Family pictures are a rarity at estate sales. Survivors almost always take them. Wherever these kids are, I bet it's far away.

The house had seven bathrooms, and all were out of order.

While I was upstairs I overheard two people talking about the woman who'd lived here. She'd been alone for many years, and after a while stopped letting anyone into the house. That's a sad end for someone who'd once enjoyed entertaining so much.

Apparently she spent her time putting together jigsaw puzzles. They filled one room.

And tending an extensive and well-organized collection of seashells.

This is the library. There weren't many current books on the shelves, which added to that frozen-in-time feeling.

This is the view from one of the upstairs windows, looking out onto the back yard. In contrast to the rest of the place, it seemed very well maintained.

There was a basement, too. About halfway down these stairs the smell of mold became overpowering.

The room at the bottom was painted dark blue, and reminded me of that basement in The Silence of the Lambs. Just beyond that doorway was a second, even stranger room.

I didn't know what to make of it. It was situated in the deepest part of the basement. The red ceiling definitely gave it a sinister feeling. But it was also well-appointed, with a fireplace and built-in bookshelves.

And this elaborate, incongruous mural on one wall.

Earlier, when I'd been in the den, I'd found an LP that looked interesting, and I carried it with me through the rest of my tour. But I put it back before leaving. I just didn't want to bring anything home with me from this place.

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