IRVING PARK — Coronavirus has many Chicagoans craving more outdoor space — whether that means a big yard, a garden or just a place with a decently-sized porch.
Tucked away on the corner of Harding and Avondale avenues in Irving Park lies one of the greenest lots in the neighborhood — but until last month, many neighbors didn’t know of the eclectic house hidden behind the trees, plants and flowers.
Christa Brachert’s home at 3762 N. Harding Ave. was listed for sale 18 days ago and since then has been viewed more than 24,000 times on Redfin alone. The listing has been shared by house hunters, journalists and just curious neighbors who never knew about the antique-filled home behind all the greenery. The three-bedroom, three-bathroom home is listed for $495,000.
The home, built in 1904, sits on a secluded corner of the city’s historic Villa District. In the ’90s, Brachert and her husband were living in River North when they decided they wanted more space. They were drawn to the Villa District, which is filled with many bungalows built between 1907 and 1922.
Developers initially designed the tree-lined streets as a quiet oasis from city life and over the past 100 years neighbors have worked to maintain its unique charm.
“When I was looking for a home in the area this one stood out as a blank canvas, which was wonderful,” Brachert said. “It had a large yard that didn’t have much in it. No pool. Nothing. We decorated over the years in this wonderful way and I’ve made this my comfortable home. It’s cozy and beautiful and fabulous. I love it. There is something magic about this house.”
Twenty five years after moving in, the canvas is far from blank.
Originally from Germany, Brachert was 20-years-old when she first came to the United States in 1960. Until last year she owned an antique shop, Christa’s Ltd., at 217 W. Illinois St.
In October she decided to retire after over 50 years in the antique business and decided to put her home on the market in July.
While talking to Block Club, she sat in an elaborate wooden chair, one of a pair, upholstered with a red pattern. The chair’s arm supports are carved to look like small boys are holding up the armrests.
Behind her are a pair of large wooden gondola lanterns painted blue and gold. The wooden lanterns have been carved to look as if cherubs are flying around them. They’re originally from Venice, Italy and Brachert said she has a similar smaller set of them installed on the bannister of the kitchen stairwell that leads to her basement.
Art and knickknacks cover nearly every square inch of the home, and that’s the way Brachert likes it.
“I don’t like having things put away in storage and never touched. What are you saving it for? I don’t see the sense in that,” Brachert said.
The lamps in Brachert’s living room flank a towering wooden cabinet with intricate woodworking depicting Christian motifs. In one of the cabinet’s carved scenes, a woman in flowing robes is holding a large cross.
Another wooden chair in the living room is of Russian origin, Brachert said, as she points out its large animal looking claw and ball foot.
“I tell you those clumsy big things like animal paws at the foot of the chair are like super serious bear paws or whatever. Definitely Russian, I would say it is,” Brachert said. “The same for the feet of the table next to it.”
Brachert has also collected a number of tapestries over the years and they can be seen hanging from nearly every wall in the home.
It’s a bright summer day, but the lamps and chandeliers inside only give off flickers of warm, dim light.
The darkness isn’t really forbidding, though. It’s reminiscent of coming home from a Chicago snowstorm in the dark of winter. That’s by design, Brachert said, adding that she loves the home’s cozy atmosphere during the winter months.
Years ago, she tried to stick to one decorating theme but said she found it incredibly limiting and wasn’t happy with the outcome. Since then she’s thrown caution to the wind and arranged her home according to her whims.
While touring the home there’s a sense of being watched because of the volume of inanimate eyes at every turn. Statues of angels as well as small taxidermied animals like birds are resting on rustic Italian side tables. Wood carvings of St. Nicholas peer down from atop the living room’s fireplace and small dolls are scattered throughout every room.
On Twitter and Facebook, viewers admire the backyard’s secret garden vibes, the kitchen’s cast-iron AGA gas range and, of course, the antique French chaise percée that sits on top of the master bedroom’s toilet.
“I love my AGA and love cooking in this kitchen. That’s one thing I’ll miss when we move and I’m sad I can’t take it with me,” Brachert said. “If you look at English country houses, or country kitchens, they almost always have one.”
Hanging from the ceiling near the kitchen and above the breakfast nook are wreaths, herbs, flowers and decorations that make it look like the Hobbit-hole pantry of Bilbo Baggins.
When told about the online interest in her bathroom’s chaise percée, Brachert laughed and explained the wicker accessory was quite a popular item when Christa’s Ltd. was still open.
“I always sold antique ones and sourcing them was always tricky. But this one I took home because I really hated looking at a toilet,” she said.
As for the yard, she’s divided it into a dining patio, pool and lounge area, painting area and other “rooms” that she can enjoy when she’s outside. The lush greenery is so thick that it’s impossible to peek over the fence to the rest of the neighborhood.
She’s also cultivated a green archway canopy for the sidewalk on Avondale Avenue just next to her home and says over the years she’s seen countless wedding and graduation photos taken under it.
This canopy is what most people walking around the neighborhood typically noticed about the home until the for sale listing went live.
Looking back at her time in the art world she says she met many “fabulous famous people” she became friends with over the years, including famed Russian actor and dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.
“Baryshnikov was a great client and when he stopped by I’d just lock up the shop for him and his whole troupe, all the dancers, would spend the day at the shop sipping on white wine,” Brachert said.
Brachert’s husband, art dealer Donald Paset, made headlines in the 1980s when an art thief named Charles Richmond was caught stealing paintings from Marshall Field by the FBI.
After he was caught Richmond told authorities he would fence the stolen goods at Paset’s Donrose Galleries.
Paset pleaded guilty to buying stolen art and forging other pieces to convince buyers they were more valuable than they were, according to a report from the Chicago Tribune. He “lost a fortune” and “went out of business” afterwards, the report says.
“That was a long time ago. It has nothing to do with the house sale. That’s ancient history,” Brachert said.
She’s unsure where she and her husband will go after the house is sold. She plans to either auction off or donate the items that are too large to bring to wherever they end up moving. She also hopes that whoever takes over the property maintains some of the landscaping she’s done over the years.
Before ending her tour, Brachert pulled out a postcard from a neighbor surprised the property was put on the market.
“I’ve admired your garden every time I go by … here’s hoping that your property retains every ounce of charm under its new ownership,” wrote her neighbor Dana Soedt.
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