A Country Chicago Abode with Tuscan Farmhouse-Feel


Detach this rustic stone home from its lush, prairie-like site, and you might place it somewhere under the Tuscan sun. But instead of rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves, there are native grasses, a blanket of wildflowers and towering sugar maples. “To see it from a distance, out in the field,” says Michael Culligan, a principal of Michael Abraham Architecture in Clarendon Hills, “there’s a certain country charm to it.”

The homeowners, whose previous residence is less than a mile from the two-acre property, were familiar with the quality of the firm’s work, having seen it firsthand in a nearby suburb of Chicago. Armed with a fat file of magazine clips with photos of what they liked, the goal after their first meeting with the architects was obvious: Blend Old World substance and style with the practicality of contemporary interiors.

The plans initially drew from the architectural vernacular elements of traditional Tuscan farmhouses. Thus the façade is a blend of at least six different local fieldstones. But it’s the way they’re set that “ages” the building. “The mortar joints are laid in a very rustic style,” explains Hinsdale-based builder David Knecht, of Northridge Builders, Inc. “There are no deep ridges; the mortar is just wiped off.”

The roof evokes sun-baked terra cotta tile, interpreted with shingle-style asphalt in the same hue. And a metal door, which could very well double for a centuries-old bronze, is actually a contemporary Corten steel, much like those that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe used in his signature Chicago high-rises. Indeed, the house is designed to look as if it has evolved over time, “like a 400-year-old Tuscan home that’s been completely remodeled,” says architect Michael Abraham. A two-story stone farmhouse stands as the “original” structure. In it are the entry, dining room, home office/library, kitchen and the daughter’s bedroom suite. The family room is defined on the exterior with its contrasting wood-frame skin painted in a shade of rich terra cotta to match the roof. The family room is annexed to a screened porch, which leads to an outdoor pergola as well as a master bedroom suite, the most modern space of all.

“We had been in a more traditional house, and didn’t use the living room that much at all,” says the wife. “Here, we wanted to focus on rooms that we do use, and take advantage of the gorgeous views.” So instead of a living room, there’s a comfortable family room with large wrap around windows, bookcases and an entertainment wall. Next to it is the
kitchen with its clean-lined cherry cabinetry, stainless steel appliances and granite countertops. But even it nods to the Tuscan farmhouse hearth with its stone fireplace and stained green cabinetry, reminiscent of painted pieces often found in old Italian kitchens.

A comfortable size at just over 4,000 square feet, some of the smaller areas gain volume with 10-foot ceilings and the way they spill into adjoining spaces. “A lot of people think it’s going to be a big house,” says the husband. “But when they come in, they don’t feel over- whelmed. The scale seems familiar.”

“It’s very easy to live in this house,” says the wife. “But what I love most is the openness and the fabulous views. Every season there’s something going on.And with all the windows, it’s like being in the middle of it all.”

—Elaine Markoutsas