As a realtor in Hinsdale, homeowner Erin McLaughlin had long been familiar with architect R. Harold Zook, who designed several Chicago-area homes from the 1920s through the ’40s, most often drawing from the English Cotswold style with exposed beams and intricate stonework. So, when a 1927 Zook home became available, she and her husband, Tim, jumped at the chance to own it. “We always knew the house could be a jewel box; it just needed a little bit of love,” Erin recalls. “I wanted something special in each room to complement the architecture, and for each space to be earthy, elegant, beautiful, and approachable. Also, my family needed to be able to utilize every space.”
So, the McLaughlin’s, who have six children, turned to architect Michael J. Abraham to update the home—including removing walls in the kitchen for more openness and light and transforming a former sunporch into a new family room. Abraham also felt that making the home’s interior a modern juxtaposition to the historic exterior style would have earned Zook’s approval. “The house is one of his all-time classics,” Abraham explains. “For us, it was fun to take apart a historic piece of architecture and see how it was originally put together—to really understand the scale and proportions of it.” With such great bones, Abraham says, a heavy-handed period restoration wasn’t necessary. “If Harold was around today, he wouldn’t have just redone the home as a period piece; he would have taken it to another level.”
The interiors are largely defined by the home’s architectural details, such as the Douglas-fir ceiling beams and a wall of stone that was previously situated on the exterior and now resides in the family room. “All of this work was completed with hand tools back in the day,” says builder Mark Hickman. “The details were done so perfectly that we decided to utilize the materials that were available back then.” An example of this is the 1 1/2-inch rift-sawn white-oak flooring stained in a chocolate tone that he says gives the house a more contemporary look.
At the same time, designers Cheryl Sheehan and Karen Hipskind set out to introduce contrasting elements into the interiors that hold their own against the Cotswold-style architecture. For example, 20th-century pieces, such as Marcel Breuer’s Laccio nesting tables in the family room, or the keeping room as the owners refer to it, and an Arco floor lamp in the great room, commingle with 21st-century finds such as Foscarini’s Caboche floor lamps, also in the great room. Striking chandeliers were placed throughout, such as a bold hand-gilt plaster piece over the entry door and a pair of Terzani pendants that hang above the kitchen island. “It was like this beautiful dance,” Sheehan says of balancing old and new throughout the house. Adds Hipskind: “The home is like this comfortable oasis; it’s organic, yet there’s an elegant quality to the details. And when the lights are on at night the whole house glows.”
New details also help to modernize the existing architecture. The original chevron-patterned entry door, for instance, was plated on the inside with stainless nickel, while in the cathedral room— named for its beamed vaulted ceiling—a razor-thin zinc table was built into the window wall. To establish the idea of strong purposeful interior spaces worthy of the architectural features, the designers outfitted the rooms with disparate materials. In the entry, a white tufted bench from Jayson Home, placed under the owners’ vintage mirror, introduces the home’s soft palette and casual-living ambience; the great room’s vast space was devised for large groups with a pit-style sofa featuring a neutral fabric; and in the dining room, an absence of a chandelier was purposefully done, with can lights creating a subtle layered design. A circular theme plays off the home’s angular lines, such as a pair of nesting tables in the entry, stools in the kitchen, and a light fixture in the master bedroom, which was fashioned as a relaxing retreat.
Outside, landscape architect Tony LoBello used a stained-glass window with a spiderweb pattern—one of Zook’s trademarks—as inspiration for a web motif in the stone pavers of the new outdoor patio. Because the house has no backyard, LoBello crafted a mix of colorful screening plants and trees. “We used Annabelle hydrangeas, which bloom almost all summer, and blue beech—a small ornamental tree that’s very densely twigged and great for privacy—but in a red fall color,” LoBello says.
With the renovation now complete, “the house really reflects our family’s personality,” Erin says. “The home just flows so well. My husband and I saw the potential, but the team made it something beautiful and comfortable.”