Homes with distinctive “thatched” roofs, exposed chamfered beams, brick, stone, stucco and wood, beamed cathedral ceilings, and small irregularly-shaped rooms bring Cotswold style cottages to mind. But, mix in spider web designs, V-shaped windows, chevron patterns, and cut out work in wooden shutters, gates and window boxes, and you get the unique designs of R. Harold Zook, noted architect of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. Zook’s designs can be found throughout the western suburbs of Chicago, as well as Iowa, Wisconsin, and as far as Tennessee. His buildings are charmingly unique and superbly crafted with natural materials. And, although, he is most famous for his Cotswold style homes, he has designed buildings in the Tudor style as well as in the Georgian style. Zook was a creative architect and made a lasting impression with his unique style.
Roscoe Harold Zook was born in Valparaiso, Indiana in 1889, one of five children. After completing high school, he enrolled at Chicago’s Armour Institute of Technology (the predecessor of I.I.T.) where he received a degree in architecture in 1914. In 1916, he married his first wife, Mildred. They lived in Chicago until 1924 when the couple and their young son moved to their new home in Hinsdale, Illinois. Their new suburban home was designed by Zook himself, and still stands as perfect example of his architectural creativeness. Mildred and R. Harold Zook were divorced in the late 1930’s.
When Zook began his career as an architect, he worked with Howard Van Doren Shaw, noted Chicago architect. Eventually, Zook opened his own offices on the 17th floor of the Marquette Building in Chicago. According to his nephew, Coder Taylor, Zook’s early career was hampered by the economic situation of the time. He was a romantic designer with a budding reputation in 1928-1929 when the Great Depression hit, followed by World War II. However, as architects developed, they often took their practices to where the work was, the suburbs. Frank Lloyd Wright went to Oak Park and R. Harold Zook went to Hinsdale, where he built his family’s first home which his nephew referred to as a “Hansel and Gretel” house, the first of many.
Zook met his second wife, Florence, at the home of mutual friends (and Zook clients). They were married in the early 1940’s in that same home in front of the fireplace that had a stylized spider web design in the stone chimneybreast, a trademark of Zook’s work. Sadly, the marriage was to be a relatively brief one, as Zook succumbed to a heart attack in April of 1949 just prior to his 60th birthday. He left behind plans of the house he intended to build for himself and Florence. It was these plans Florence used when she built the house where she resided until shortly before her death in the early 1970’s.
Before her death, Florence was asked to assist in the project of locating buildings designed by R. Harold Zook. Florence was devoted to the project. She often said that Zook loved his work, but not recordkeeping. Therefore, a complete list of Zook’s buildings was never compiled during his lifetime. Thanks to a few dedicated Zook experts, eighty-one buildings have been authenticated as Zook designs, most of these are homes and some are commercial structures. His architecture continues to be celebrated today, as many of his buildings in Hinsdale are being designated as Historic Landmarks.
Zook’s only son, Harold B. Zook, carries on the family name and career. He is a well-known architect in Corona del Mar, California.
It was once said the R. Harold Zook is to Hinsdale as Frank Lloyd Wright is to Oak Park. R. Harold Zook was not just an architect, he was an artist. His passion for his work shows in the details of his designs. Zook’s use of natural materials proclaims his quality craftsmanship. Zook’s designs are distinctive, and once you have experienced his unique works of art, a drive through his hometown of Hinsdale, Illinois will never be the same!