Stay put or move—it was this classic empty nester conundrum that weighed on the minds of a North Shore couple who loved their 1895 Victorian but no longer needed its many rooms. Until they spied a For Sale sign on a vacant half-acre lakefront lot. “That made the decision for us,” says the husband, who chalked up this find to a twist of fate. The wife adds: “We’d always wanted to live on the lake, and this gave us the chance to build a house to suit our needs: fewer rooms, bigger spaces and a kitchen where we could entertain and eat together.”
Providence struck again when it came time to hire an architect. They interviewed three, yet still felt most simpatico with Stuart Cohen, with whom they had worked on the renovation of their first home in 1980 and who was now partnered with Julie Hacker.
The couple came to their first design meeting armed with telling ideas and images, and Cohen was struck by their “similar visions of the project’s parameters, but with different aesthetic perceptions.” Along with fewer but right-sized rooms, both also wanted to maximize the natural light and views of the lake and create a cozy environment laden with warm materials and character-rich woods. However, “everything she liked was fairly Zen-like and more modern, and everything he liked was American bungalow and Arts and Crafts,” notes Hacker.
To bridge the divide, the architects borrowed elements from all these styles and forged an inspired hybrid possessing the spacious, airy proportions of a contemporary and the exquisitely articulated detailing of a craftsman home. They then specified stones and woods that are at once sumptuous and earthy to clad the interior, and incorporated expansive divided-pane windows and transoms coupled with tall French doors to add a sense of cohesiveness to the home, imbue it with light and capture the stunning views.
The intricately detailed design required a myriad of master craftsmen, led by builder Steve Sturm and project superintendent John Cavalier. “We had about 10 to 15 guys working there daily,” explains Sturm. “I like to think that all of our guys put a lot of great energy into every job we do, but this one had a little extra soul.” To the homeowners, this was but another instance of good karma, which continued when they scored the perfect design team through a recommendation from the West Loop gallery Primitive. The couple desired someone who could help the two incorporate all the things they had collected on their travels into the new house, and designers Thomas Riker and James Dolenc certainly fit the bill.
“They have all these wonderful pieces; the challenge was to showcase them properly,” explains Riker. “They were moving from a Victorian with a different aesthetic and scale, so, while a lot of their furniture wouldn’t work in the new house, we were able to find places for all the really important things.”
Collections of fabrics and artifacts from India, New Guinea and the Middle East are arrayed throughout the house, which has more expansive walls than the couple’s former home; a prized Indian altar textile has finally received its just due on the living room wall.
These treasures are grounded with new clean-lined yet comfortable furniture and accessories, including some that “feel rustic, such as an onyx Bradley Hughes coffee table and pillows with African motifs, to reflect their sensibility,” explains Riker.
Today, all the karmic connections the couple made during the project have clearly worked their magic. “Everyone who comes here tells us how much the place looks and feels like us,” says the husband, “and that’s exactly how we wanted it.”