In the town of Lake Forest, looks can be deceiving. Though the Chicago suburb is referenced for its traditional and historic architecture, behind those classic façades, the city also boasts some of the country’s most progressive and modern interiors. This was true in the 1930s, when architect David Adler was designing elegant 18th-century-style houses and his sister, Frances Adler Elkins, was filling them with luxuriously spare pieces by Jean-Michel Frank, and it is true now.
Architect and designer Darcy Bonner followed a similar direction when fashioning a house for a family who wanted to express their modern tastes within the traditional neighborhood. “It was as if David Adler met Le Corbusier,” explains Bonner. “The house has a timeless approach to the floor plan, but then we stripped down all the interior detail, much in the same way that Jean-Michel Frank peeled away the details of his furniture to produce a very modern interpretation of a traditional design.”
Establishing that point of view in laying out the structure was architect Erik T. Johnson, who followed a French Beaux Arts style that called for “a symmetrical approach,” he says. “There’s a clarity to it, and it’s bold, upfront and honest.”
That philosophy materialized into a formal entrance foyer, flanked by an oval dining room and a parlor, which leads into a large great room. Wings branch off on either side, one containing a family room and the other a master suite. Between the wings, landscape designers Jason Quigley and Janie Schaumburg tied the spaces together with a limestone terrace.
“We worked with the architect to bring a similar feel from the inside to the outside so you don’t have a stark contrast at the doorway,” Quigley says. The light limestone complements the Santa Barbara-style stucco façade, but there are no grand embellishments and no ornate flourishes. “The true measure of elegance is a process of reduction,” declares Johnson.
Inside, Bonner began with a rich material backdrop. “A big influence on the interiors was the work of Paul Dupré-Lafon,” he says. “I love his intense, luxurious details.” Venetian plaster lends texture to the foyer, and Bonner gave the adjoining parlor and dining room distinctive but equally luxurious looks. He highlighted the fireplaces in both spaces with custom gilded cast-glass surrounds and hammered-bronze-and-gold-leaf sconces by Hervé Van der Straeten.
In the parlor, upholstered leather walls pay tribute to Frank, and pieces from Bonner’s extensive line of handcrafted furnishings, Mattaliano, also recall 1930s elegance. In the dining room, a custom ebony Mattaliano table stands beneath a sculptural light fixture, also by Van der Straeten. “It is solid cast bronze and almost looks like a woman’s bracelet dangling from the ceiling,” says Bonner.
For the great room, Bonner brought in several custom pieces to lend contemporary counterpoints. He then sheathed walls in chocolate- hued wenge and topped a travertine fireplace mantel with patinated bronze panels. “They give a warm, elegant finish to the space in a modern way,” says the designer, who divided the capacious room into distinct seating areas.
Two lounge chairs covered with Jasper leather pull up to a fireplace, while a Crillon sofa and custom tête-à-tête accented with bronze details anchor the seating areas on either side of the room. At the room’s center, a kidney-shaped Mattaliano sofa with a Great Plains fabric faces a custom stainless-steel coffee table. “The clients preferred to be a little edgy with the furniture,” says Bonner.
The textures become softer in the master bedroom, where bronze strips frame linen-upholstered walls and the millwork transitions to English oak. “This was not a house where you could just order moldings out of a catalog,” says general contractor Donald F. Zordani Jr. “This was very custom, and there wasn’t a lot of room for error.” A custom bed made from Macassar ebony stands between wenge-and-vellum Capucci nightstands, and Bonner chose a Rogers & Goffigon linen fabric to envelope the room. “I wanted to create a luxurious cocoon with interesting details that tie into the rest of the house,” he says.
Although there are many references to ’30s French design, Bonner keeps the house from feeling like a time capsule by introducing “the few pieces that are completely contemporary,” he explains. “There’s a little punch of modernity that represents the 21st century.” By working off the classical architecture with restrained detailing, original furnishings and a sophisticated palette, Bonner created a look that transcends periods. “It’s timeless,” he says. “And that’s what makes this house work.”