From the day they purchased the 1960s builder-grade Tudor plagued by dark rooms caused by tiny windows, a young Hinsdale couple knew a renovation was inevitable—and the sooner the better. But, as often happens, the demands of child rearing and managing careers—she is a doctor, and he works in financial services—stalled their good intentions. Fifteen years and two children later, they decided it was time to see the light and hired architect Catherine Osika and interior designer Steve Kadlec for the job. “The landscape was beautiful, but it was the darkest house I had ever seen,” Osika remembers about her first impression of the structure. Kadlec’s was even more succinct: “It was a nondescript suburban home,” he recalls.
Not surprisingly, early meetings with the homeowners revealed a desire for rooms flooded with natural light and a flowing open floor plan. “We wanted the first floor to have maximum natural light, no doors between rooms and as few hallways as possible,” the wife says. “We envisioned windows on all four sides of the house and 10-foot ceilings everywhere, including the basement.”
Because the owners wanted taller ceiling heights on the first floor, it was necessary to raise the second level. This prompted Osika, who had already drawn several remodeling iterations, to turn to builder Kim Eriksen to help determine whether to retool the first floor and foundation or wipe the slate clean with a new build. “Starting over meant we could easily address the existing low basement ceiling heights in lieu of excavating for a deeper basement,” Eriksen says. “It also solved some infrastructure issues and allowed for more design flexibility.” The costs for both options were similar, he concluded, and in the end the team decided to move forward with all-new construction.
For the new plan, Osika got busy designing a French Provincial-style home. “The owners wanted a traditional envelope that was not overly formal and appeared as if it had been there for a while,” she says. To establish the proper tone for the exterior, she selected the pink common brick that had been used on countless old Chicago buildings. The material is coupled with a gray slate roof reminiscent of older manor houses and a muted-limestone trim, a look the architect describes as “a contemporary interpretation of the heavier detailing often seen on a country French home.” As it happens, this interplay of traditional details with a modern finish emerged as a central theme.
Kadlec, who is also trained as an architect, collaborated with Osika on several interior details that convey a classic contemporary look. In lieu of a traditional grand staircase in the entry, their 21st-century version combined his open-railing concept with her idea of stacked walnut cubes for risers. When it came to millwork, they agreed on simple moldings that frame the rooms and articulate the drywall, preventing walls from feeling too stark and vast. And noting coffered ceilings tend to make rooms feel smaller, they employed clean-lined recessed trim to delineate spaces without overwhelming them. “The home has the essence of traditional but none of the heaviness,” Osika says.
In keeping with the established concept, Kadlec sought furnishings and accessories that reference the home’s classical style expressed with contemporary profiles and that provided the peaceful atmosphere the owners desired. A wingback chair in the living room, for example, is rendered in a more contoured shape, and the rounded leather chairs in the adjacent dining room have a Deco flavor. In the master suite, the clean lines of the tightly upholstered linen bed balance the tufted mohair chaise lounge—a nod to the past—and the bathroom chandelier is fashioned from glass teardrops instead of formal crystals.
Responding to the noticeable lack of wall space for artwork because of the plethora of windows, Kadlec relied on window coverings to create visual focal points. “Although all the spaces open to each other, a variety of drapery types adds warmth and further delineates the spaces,” the designer explains. In the living room, linen draperies with a metallic thread reference the kitchen’s striking copper hood. The same warm tone repeats on the floral pattern of the draperies in the dining room, while pale blue and cream stripes accent the expanses of glass in the sunroom.
Paramount to the success of the project was integrating the architecture with its heavily wooded surroundings and rolling-hill locale. “We conceptualized a brick wall to form a terrace off the library on the front side of the house and placed a mixture of evergreens along the property line so the owners could enjoy privacy while sitting outside,” says landscape architect Bob Hursthouse. Those trees also greatly improved the view from the interiors, the husband explains: “Because we are on a hill, our first floor is at the same level as our neighbor’s second floor. But when we look out, all we see is greenery from every room.”
Come nightfall, the owners enjoy lighting the 8-foot-long bluestone backside fire pit, no matter the season: On summer evenings, friends and family gather on the cushioned benches that surround it, while in winter the couple enjoy watching the ames flicker from the dining room during dinner and from the sunroom with cocktails. It’s a symbolic example of the sense of warmth and well-being the family enjoys in their new home. “We had design principles,” the wife says, “but it was our design team that took what was in our hearts and minds and made it come to life.”