As Chicago fills up with nondescript buildings, the soul is ever more appreciative on encountering those exceptional structures of any age that were built with an eye to beauty. One such is the Nickerson Mansion, begun in 1879 and completed in 1881. The house embodies the ample means of its original owners, Samuel and Matilda Nickerson, who, besides being wealthy, had a real love of beauty. Their home has been preserved from that time to this, now under the auspices of Richard H Driehaus, who operates it as the Driehaus Museum.
The house is very grand but beneath that grandness pulses a spirit that is sensuous and joyous. The house is like a jewel box, a grey vault outside giving little hint of the remarkable treasures within. I wonder whether the people who first lived here were anything like the house, whose outward stiffness hides an opulent exuberance. Radiance oozes from the marble work and fine wood panelling; gorgeous mosaics, tiles, and finely worked metals filigree the mansion’s beautifully proportioned (and soaringly high-ceilinged) rooms.
Were they (the Nickersons) wrong to have blown a wad on this glorious stained-glass dome? Fallen creatures they were, yet not so far gone as to have lost any recollection of paradise.