Originally built as a second home for the wealthy east coast Nickerson family, today the Driehaus Museum focuses on home life in the Gilded Age of America. I realize that’s a lot of description crammed into one sentence so let’s break it down.
Sam Nickerson and his wife built their Chicago mansion about a decade after the Great Chicago Fire. As such it’s built with solid brick walls. The interior is lined with pretty much every material you can think of; many types of wood, tile, fabric, and even a precursor to linoleum.
When the Nickersons decided to move away, they sold their home at a steep discount to a friend. It eventually was converted into offices, and was most recently purchased by a different wealthy Chicago man, investor Richard Driehaus. Hence the name of the museum.
In the early 2000’s Driehaus had the property restored as much as possible to its original glory, with a mix of original furniture and period-appropriate furnishings from his own collection. Throughout the home you’ll find everything from Tiffany lamps to (seemingly decorative) office supplies.
Additionally you’ll see special exhibits, which currently include a small exhibit about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and a much larger exhibit throughout the museum by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare which broadly reinterprets elements of the era ranging from colonialism to Oscar Wilde. These will change in the future so check the museum’s website for up to date information on current exhibits.
My recommendation: Such an eclectic museum seems like it should be an off the beaten path find, and yet it’s located on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. If it sounds interesting I’d start by booking the hour long guided highlights tour and going from there — the tour includes general admission. Coat and bag check is free.