Sometimes exactly what you’ve been looking for ends up being right in front of you. In the case of a couple searching for a house that better suited the needs of their family, including their two young children, it was only a little farther than that—two short blocks from where they had lived for 10 years on the North Shore of Lake Michigan. “We loved our home and our neighborhood,” the husband explains. “But we wanted a kitchen that connected to the family room that connected to the backyard. We also needed lots of storage space, a big pantry and a garage we could actually park in.”
The couple was willing to let go of their house but not the neighborhood. “The North Shore is a special place because it has a dynamic cultural scene,” the husband says. Adds the wife: “You can walk to the ‘L’ in 10 minutes.” It was while they were searching for a house with a modern floor plan in their neighborhood filled with mostly traditional homes that a close-by lakefront residence became available. The house itself left much to be desired, but “the property had incredible views,” the wife says. “We decided to take down what was there and build something that would take full advantage of the site.”
Known for their ability to masterfully balance traditional architecture with a contemporary style of living, architects Stuart Cohen and Julie Hacker were the ideal choice for this job. Their first order of business—with the help of project architect Garry Shumaker—was to give the new residence a sense of place in the neighborhood by selecting Wisconsin limestone for the façade; the stately material also marks the adjacent 1930s houses built by C.A. Hemphill. “We reused the carved-stone classical entryway from the original house, as well,” Cohen says. The lakeside rear received an entirely different treatment complete with cedar clapboard siding and an abundance of vertical windows topped with transoms. “We constructed the house so that it would be seamless with the landscape,” says general contractor Steve Sturm. “It became a part of the natural beauty surrounding it.”
Inside, the open floor plan features an array of traditional elements while still providing a modern-day feel. “The openness is a very contemporary way of living, and it floods the spaces with natural light,” Cohen says. “We felt it was our obligation to organize the house so you could see the lake from almost every room.” The architects clearly defined the spaces with a series of columns and beams. “They offer a sense of orientation and delineate individual areas within the larger space,” Hacker explains. “We like spaces that flow, but it’s important to create functional rooms with purpose and comfort in mind. We then detailed the rooms with traditional Georgian-style trim and crown molding. The trim creates a sense of continuity between the spaces.”
Designers James Dolenc and Tom Riker underscored the house’s indoor-outdoor connection by outfitting the interiors with a muted palette. “We used taupe, blue, gray and green tones found in the surrounding dunes, the lake and the grass,” Dolenc explains. “The client was concerned about sand being traipsed in from the beach, and the natural colors help to mask that.” Casual yet rich textures give the feeling of an island escape. Tactile grass cloth, for instance, covers the walls of the master bedroom, while soft linen shades dress the living room windows. Dolenc and Riker then mixed vintage finds with classically-styled upholstered pieces and more formal wood case goods to add warmth to the cool palette. “Everything had to be livable and kid-friendly,” Dolenc says. In that same vein, the designers customized a pair of comfortable English-style sofas and upholstered them with forgiving sand-colored fabric in the living room; a zinc-topped table with a smooth finish in the breakfast room will develop a patina over time.
On the second-level landing, the designers created yet another living space. “It’s a place where the parents can read with the kids before bedtime,” Dolenc says. “We added a soft, textured rug and a custom high-back banquette upholstered with a grayish-blue fabric that reminds you of the lake.” The designers then covered the arched ceiling with pale green wallpaper that sparkles with tiny silver stars—another subtle nod to the outdoors.
The landscape design is at once organic and functional. “The homeowners didn’t want a manicured garden,” landscape architect Kris Barker says. “So, I designed a big lawn with steps that lead to the beach. They’re made of rugged stone and look like they were unearthed from the site.” Creating cohesion between the landscape and the interiors was important to the owners. “We love the connection between our house and the outdoors,” says the wife. “We’re able to see how the lake transforms each day and how the sun changes location during different times throughout the year. We even see storms moving across the lake. Living in this house, on this site, has helped our family feel a strong connection to the natural rhythms of the world.”