When a pair of empty nesters decided to downsize and build a more intimate home on a private lot in Glencoe, they let past experience be their guide. To design the home—nestled between a ravine and a golf course—the couple turned to late architect Tony Grunsfeld, with whom they had collaborated to create their previous house, as well as designer Richar, who had fashioned the interiors for several of their dwellings in the course of nearly three decades.
Key players, such as Richar, were involved from the start and because of that, the designer was able to influence the material choices and to make sure that certain details were in place. “The best projects result when you engage your interior designer, your architect and your builder from the beginning,” Richar explains. “As the designer, you know where the furniture and art should be, which impacts where the lighting and outlets should be placed. These details are important.”
Such details are evident from the home’s entry, where visitors arrive through the front courtyard into a large foyer leading into a great room with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the forested ravine. Crema Marfil slab floors are balanced with mahogany paneling that conceals storage for audio and video equipment on one side of the room. Outfitted with inviting furnishings and unique art pieces, this space is one example of the juxtaposition against the more modern exterior. “The shell is totally contemporary, clean and simple,” Richar says. “For the interiors, the clients desired a warmer feeling.”
Through the years, Richar had helped his clients collect an array of fine antiques that include Italian, Scandinavian and French pieces alongside Art Deco, Asian and more primitive furnishings. A lot of the items came from the designer’s private collection. “I used subtle fabric textures as a counterpoint to these very ornate pieces,” Richar says. “The mix of periods creates more of a collected, international look—eclectic and transitional.”
To further unite the styles, Richar selected a neutral palette of cream, bronze and cinnabar. “This is quiet, understated elegance,” says the designer, pointing to the rugs in the living and dining areas, which are identical but done in different textures. “When something specific draws your eye, it can steal the show. I designed the great room to be viewed as a whole,” he says. “And carrying a common thread of elegant sophistication to each room produced a synergy to the house.”
According to landscape architect Drew Johnson, who worked on the project alongside landscape designer Rick Lamble, it was just as important that the outside areas complement the architecture and interior design to create a well-balanced aesthetic. “Tony Grunsfeld homes really open themselves up to the landscape, so it’s critical that the details—where the sculptures are set, where the furniture sits—are carefully considered,” Johnson says, pointing to broad sweeps of bluestone that lay the groundwork for a series of “rooms” along the rear and side of the home.
But before the home could be built and style considered, the picturesque lot had to be leveled by driving a series of steel pilings into the edge of the ravine. “We added concrete panels and a special fill between the pilings to level the land,” explains builder Ron Carani, who had often worked with Grunsfeld in the past. “I really appreciate his attention to detail and enjoyed working with him so much.”
The owners, too, are thrilled to be living in one of Grunsfeld’s final projects. “Tony was a perfectionist. We wanted a house that we could live in and entertain in, and it serves both of these functions very well,” the wife explains. “This is such a beautiful setting and was the perfect place to build a house.”