Take one look at the large, welcoming home of a young family in Winnetka and it can be difficult to imagine that its origins were once much smaller: so small, in fact, that all of its rooms could fit into a space the size of a shoebox. For years, the wife had been painstakingly squirreling away pages from design magazines in a trusty Brooks Brothers shoebox under her bed—a picture-perfect living room here, an envy-worthy kitchen there—waiting for the day she and her husband could take these inspirations and translate them into a dream house all their own.
So, when a suitable plot of land became available, just around the corner from where they were living at the time, the couple knew it was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. The only problem was that they weren’t sure how the brand-new kid on the block would affect the charming aesthetic of their older neighborhood with its established traditional architecture. “We really wanted a house that was going to reflect that it had been there for a long time,” says the wife. “We didn’t want it to feel like it was new construction that just popped up in the middle of the street.”
After sharing their concerns with designer Tom Stringer and architect Steve Munson, however, the couple was put at ease. As it turned out, the solution was simple: The home’s exterior would borrow its good looks from old-school Midwest farmhouses, while the interiors would be specially designed to accommodate the needs and wants of an active modern family. “Everything from the massing of the home to the different insets and overhangs we implemented to the materials we used helped to integrate the home into the neighborhood,” says Munson. “It took us ages to find the perfect stone for the façade because we wanted to make sure it had the right patina and looked really natural. We thought every little thing through.”
For Stringer’s part, he meticulously upheld the same attention to detail inside the house. Working with builder Jon Kogan and a team of talented craftsmen, Stringer spearheaded the home’s interior architecture, drawing and executing plans for the trim, molding and paneling throughout the home before tackling the furniture selection. “I really love old homes,” says Stringer, “so it was nice to be able to bring in some of those elements. They gave us a beautiful backdrop for all the great things we were bringing into the house”—and Kogan is the first to agree. “The millwork provided a lot of character and a nice sense of history,” he says. “It was complicated but completely worth it.”
Happily, however, the home holds more surprises than its carefully calculated woodwork would imply. While safe and soothing grays and warm neutrals define much of Stringer’s interiors, playful art—such as a refinished typesetter’s drawer over the fireplace in the family room and an oversize Michael Noonan print in the dining room—and quirky lighting—including the wiry, cartoon-like chandeliers over the island in the kitchen and the bubble bath-inspired pendant in the master bathroom—bring the spaces to life.
The result is a home that has come a long way from its shoebox roots, yet does not stray too far off the course its inspiration provided. “It’s so funny,” says the wife. “If I went down to the basement right now and went through the shoebox and all its clippings, I could probably find at least 10 things that ultimately made it into the house. It’s exactly what we wanted.”