Merry and bright

Infant Welfare Society's Holiday Housewalk this weekend

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

The 21st Annual Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society Holiday Housewalk and Market takes place this weekend, and includes tours of five Oak Park and River Forest homes decorated for the season, as well as a Holiday Market at the Nineteenth Century Club featuring artisanal gifts. 

Event Chairwoman Susan Shields says the annual event is an integral part of the IWS's fundraising efforts for the Children's Clinic, a health care safety net for vulnerable children and families living in Chicago's west side and the near west suburbs.

"The walk provides an avenue of fundraising for our clinic, and also helps bring our mission to the public," Shields said. "It showcases the great work the Infant Welfare Society does in providing health care to those in need, and it is a fun way to kick off the holiday season with a great opportunity to get a glimpse inside some beautiful homes."


Holiday houses

This year's homes include two Oak Park and three River Forest homes, each with their own unique spin on holiday décor. A Prairie-style stunner in Oak Park designed by architect George Maher once served as a convent for nuns who taught at nearby St. Edmund's School. 

Today, the nuns' cells have been converted to bedrooms for a family of six who enjoy decorating with ornaments collected on family travels. A snowman collection amassed over 27 years decorates the dining room buffet, and a treasured crèche collection has a spot of honor in a bay window.

Also in Oak Park is a newly renovated Hulbert House dating to 1907. A new chef's kitchen, great room and master suite addition allow this family with young children to spread out and enjoy their musical instruments and art. 

After the traditional Christmas morning scavenger hunt, the family gathers in front of the fireplace in their family room, decorated with fresh greens and candlelight to open presents and enjoy Christmas breakfast.

In River Forest, a Spanish Renaissance-style house was designed in 1926 by Frederick Meyer and Norman Cook for the family of Joseph Cook. The Butlers expanded the home in 1950, and the house brims with Staturio marble and art embedded in the walls. Today, the owners celebrate the holidays with nods to their Russian heritage and decorate with 100-year-old family icons.

Down the street, another River Forest family decorates their Jerome Cerny-designed French eclectic home with decorations that hint at the owner's Southern heritage. Every year, the house is decorated with 12 trees, one of which comes from their family-owned farm in North Carolina. 

The owners updated the home in 2017, retaining Cerny trademarks such as the circular floor plan, arched doorways and rounded ceilings, while adding touches that speak to their family history. During the holidays, an advent calendar purchased on a trip to Germany and a nativity set from Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral are memories of their travels.

In the third River Forest home, the homeowners celebrate their Swedish heritage with decorations both old and new including Dala horses, Swedish linens, straw ornaments, and heart-shaped ornaments made from gingerbread. 

The French Normandy-style home was built in 1942 and though modernized, retains many original decorative touches. During the holidays, the family brings out its nutcracker collection and adds a new nutcracker to the mix every year.

Shields says that every year, homeowners graciously offer to share their homes to benefit the mission of the Infant Welfare Society. In the past, Shields has served as a docent on the housewalk, and says that IWS volunteers as well as those who purchase tickets for the walk enjoy learning more about the various homes. 

"Getting to know the history and the background of the small pieces, the holiday decorations, the art and the antiques in the home make for such a fun evening," Shields said. "You would never know just from looking at the outside what all of these homes look like on the inside."


Holiday market

As the IWS raises money for its new Children's Clinic on Madison Street in Oak Park, Shields says that it is important to keep fundraising to support the enlarged space, which will allow the Children's Clinic to serve more clients. 

An important piece of that fundraising is the holiday market, held at the Nineteenth Century Club over the weekend. With more than 25 vendors selling jewelry, clothing and food items, Shields says the market is the perfect place to find unique items for your holiday gifts that can't be found elsewhere. 

While crossing items off your gift list, you are also donating to a great cause: 15 percent of all market sales benefit the IWS Children's Clinic.

Also at the market, visitors can buy raffle tickets to win a Celebration Table scape, and enjoy delicious food provided by Charlie Robinson.

Shields says the weekend is all about community members helping families and points out that while friends and family enjoy the weekend festivities together, they are doing so in a way that benefits children from over fifty communities who receive medical, dental, and behavioral health care services at the IWS Children's Clinic.


Event details 

Tickets for the Oak Park River Forest Infant Welfare Society's Holiday Housewalk and Market cost $45. Admission to the Market at the Nineteenth Century Club is free.

Opening night tickets for Thursday, Dec. 5 are $15 and can be bundled with the Holiday Spirit and Wine Tasting, sponsored by Famous Liquors for $40. Not-So-Trivial-Pursuit Night takes place Friday, Dec. 6, and includes admission for up to 10 guests, for $250 per table.

Tours of the five houses take place on Friday, Dec. 6 from 5 to 9 p.m., and on Saturday, Dec. 7 from noon to 4 p.m.

Tickets for all events can be purchased in advance at or at the Nineteenth Century Club, 178 Forest Ave. in Oak Park, the day of the event. 

For more information about the event, visit or call 708-406-8660.

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