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Modernist house from ‘Ferris Bueller’ undergoing extensive renovation

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The A. James Speyer-designed glass house in Highland Park is being restored for another generation

Baranski Hammer Moretta & Sheehy

The house that famously served as the residence of the fictional character Cameron Frye in the classic John Hughes film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is currently undergoing an extensive renovation which will not only see the house restored to its original appearance, but will also add modern improvements and efficiencies. The architects Baranski Hammer Moretta & Sheehy are overseeing the house’s restoration.

Originally completed in 1952, the glass house was designed by the modernist architect A. James Speyer. A student of Mies van der Rohe, Speyer’s glass box with its minimalist appearance is situated on a forested lot in north suburban Highland Park. And while the house boasts an architectural pedigree and pop culture fame, the glass and steel structure has deteriorated over the years, prompting a much needed restoration.

“The house was kind of at risk,” architect Jim Baranski tells us. “There had been people looking at it with the intent of tearing it down, and this is something that has been an issue in Highland Park and other communities with midcentury architecture.”

Smaller homes built throughout the North Shore during the modernist era are often targets for demolition for the construction of newer homes. However, Baranski says that the current owners of the Speyer-designed house on Beech Street are staunchly preservation-minded. “We were working with them on a different project doing a renovation and halfway through it, they asked us to stop and said that they were thinking about buying another house,” Baranski explains. The “other” house ended up being the modernist glass house that made an appearance in Ferris Bueller.

Baranski Hammer Moretta & Sheehy

While it’s known to the general public for its cameo in the John Hughes film, Baranski says that he and his team are more excited about the house’s pedigree as a great modernist house. “The movie is just a sidebar thing for us, because otherwise, it’s an excellent example of midcentury modern architect. It’s just a really cool house.”

Composed of glass and steel with cyprus slats for the exterior, the house’s structural and mechanical systems are being overhauled. The house originally featured single-pane windows with no thermal glazing and an inefficient HVAC system which saw ductwork going in and out of the house. Baranski says that the house was essentially uninhabitable during the cold winter months.

However, the ground surrounding the house has been dug up to add a new and more efficient heating and cooling system and a wood frame garage that was later added to the house has been removed to make way for a new underground garage. The pavilion featured in Ferris Bueller will remain.

A drawing depicting the new underground entryway to the garage.
Baranski Hammer Moretta & Sheehy

Baranski says there’s still a lot of work to be done, but his team has already made big strides so far. The firm has also uploaded schematics and drawings of the new underground garage on Facebook for architecture buffs to pour over. Baranski also adds that he hopes the project will serve as a case study of how aging homes from the modernist era can be saved and renovated to serve contemporary needs.

“We know it was in a movie and that’s cool, but the house is a piece of history of that line between Mies van der Rohe and midcentury modern architecture,” Baranski adds.