Drawing Room Lamp, Driehaus Museum

Two blocks west of the Magnificent Mile, on Erie Street, there is to be found a marble palace. It is, from the outside, an stately house but nevertheless unassuming. You wouldn’t think that lavish grandeur waited inside.

The Driehaus Museum from the outside

The house of which I speak is the former Nickerson Mansion, completed in 1883, one of the few remnants of the Gilded Age, its interior miraculously preserved and recently restored by Chicago investment banker and art collector Richard Driehaus, who bought the building and turned it into the Driehaus Museum, in part to exhibit his impressive collection of Tiffany glass.

Looking into the Drawing Room from the Grand
Hall (this is a scanned postcard)

The opulence of the Gilded Age, or what, as a European, one might call “Victorian,” is usually too much for me, but my younger son loves it. On a family trip to Versailles a few years ago, he made us all tromp through the endless gardens in the heat, so we could visit the Grand and the Petit Trianon just before they were closing for the day. When I asked him why he absolutely had to see these castles, he said, “because I like fancy things.”

The Driehaus Museum, then, offers plenty of fancy things. Even though photographs are allowed, flash photography and tripods are not, and since the interior is rather dim, it isn’t easy to get decent photographs. Following are some of my favorite shots of this palace from the Gilded Age.

Stained Glass Dome on the first floor’s Sculpture Gallery. Not by Tiffany, although it could be…

Close-up of the fireplace mosaic in that same Sculpture Gallery, installed by the second owner, and obviously more Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced.
The mansion features other stained glass windows as well, here the alcove in Mrs. Nickerson’s sitting room. The whole room is done in a Moorish style.
Second floor hall windows
Second floor hall
Even if you’re not into ornate interiors, the workmanship and attention to detail in this house is amazing. Each floor in the main house features a different pattern in its parquet floor.
The servants quarters, which we also got to glimpse on our tour, featured beautiful tiled floors, the likes of which we’d consider luxurious nowadays. In fact, when I came home from that tour, my own home struck me as somewhat shabby, even though it’s a carefully renovated 1920s Arts & Crafts style apartment.
Mainly, I really loved the wall coverings in the Driehaus Museum. Here the tapestry on the wall in the Sewing Room. Somehow an “embroidered” wall strikes me as particularly apt for the room where Mrs. Nickerson’s seamstress worked.
Tiled wall in the Smoking Room off the first floor hallway
Lastly, a view from the Driehaus Museum over to Ranson R. Cable House, one of the few other mansions left from the Gilded Age, which is now the headquarters of Driehaus Investments. The interior of that building, however, did not survive the decades, so the Driehaus Museum is unique in Chicago in that it lets us still walk through the house that banker Samuel Nickerson built after his first house burned down in the Chicago Fire of 1871 to show off his newly acquired wealth. And so, amidst all the steel, concrete and glass, we still have a little castle right in the middle of modern day Chicago. Little by Versailles standards, anyway…