On five bucolic acres in Lake Forest sits a historic Italianate home designed by late Chicago architect Eben Ezra Roberts. The home had been owned by just one family for its entire 100-year history, and when the woman of the house decided to sell, a couple with three teenage girls was intrigued. “We got a tip that it was coming on the market, and I drove by it about 60 times,” admits the wife. Upon closer inspection, the family became smitten. “It was like walking into the 1920s,” says the husband. “It was older and falling apart, but it had this timeless feel that was just extraordinary.”
A key selling point was the sprawling grounds, which still held ruins of the home’s once lush gardens. “We tried to work the spirit of what originally was there into the new design,” says landscape architect Douglas Hoerr, who was brought onboard to create outdoor environments that would complement the architecture. “The house is set up on a central axis, so we honored that setup from the front to the back of the property.” The grounds are more formal near the house and gradually become more naturalistic toward the outlying woodlands.
Architect Steve Rugo was hired to do restoration work on the house itself and to adjust the home’s layout to suit the owners’ modern lifestyle, turning existing divided rooms into one large living space with expansive panoramas. “There was no view to the back of this rather extensive piece of property, so we added two rear extensions that look like glass porches and fit with the vocabulary of the home’s original Italianate aesthetic,” Rugo says. “It was a process of melding all of those things that a modern family needs, without any one of them overpowering what already exists.”
Those two extensions became a sun-flooded sitting room for the kids upstairs and, on the lower level, a more spacious kitchen and a bright family room. Rugo also reoriented the home’s staircase to improve flow. As construction began, the team went to great lengths to blend the extension into the existing architecture. Two builders with resto- ration expertise helped bring Rugo’s plans to life: Glenn Heidbreder, who worked on the first phase of the project, and Dave Wardeberg of Ridgeway Builders was brought in to restore the existing guesthouse and to add a four-car garage. “What we do is like archaeology,” says Heidbreder. “You open things up, and you’re never quite sure what you’ll find. We tried to understand what the original architect’s ideas were and stayed in keeping with that.” Custom windows, for example, were designed to mimic those on the rest of the house. Through those windows, the homeowners can now sit in the family room and enjoy unobstructed views of the beautiful surroundings.
Inside, designer Athalie Derse helped the couple strike a balance between old-world charm and contemporary living, incorporating modern pieces with clean lines and touches of color to keep the rooms feeling fresh.She then added fun fabrics and fine antiques throughout to create interest. “Antiques tell a story, and they’re often like beautiful pieces of sculpture,” she says. “Most came from Richard Norton, a longtime Chicago antiques dealer in Lake Forest who was familiar with the home.” In addition, Derse collaborated on the restoration of the home alongside Rugo.
The history of the home itself is indeed alive and well, with the previous owner playing a continuing role. “She still stops by to check up on the house,” says the husband “We feel a little like stewards. This house came before us, and we have to respect it and pass it on to somebody else who will respect it as well.”