With four sons ranging in age from 7 to 14, a couple increasingly felt as if they were starring in a film called The Incredible Shrinking House. The 3,000 square feet of their charming 1916 house in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka—and its quarter acre— was starting to become smaller and smaller as their boys grew bigger and bigger. As luck would have it, an old estate less than a mile away, subdivided into three separate lots, went up for sale, and after buying an almost 1-acre parcel, the couple set out to make the house a reflection of who they are and how they live.
“They’re very nice, casual people with a big extended family,” says architect and designer Elissa Morgante, who, along with her husband and business partner, Fred Wilson, and an extensive team that included America Garcia, Krista Petkovsek and K Tyler, worked closely with the couple to create a seamless design that, starting at the curb, would emphasize their friendly, relaxed lifestyle. “They didn’t want the house to feel big and intimidating,” says Morgante, “but like an old familiar home you could just walk up to and ring the doorbell.”
For the exterior, the couple chose the Shingle style—a historic approach popular in the Northeast at the turn of the 20th century. With its use of varying materials, including cedar shake and stone, and differing window sizes, the design was the perfect choice to break up the large exterior and keep it from looking too massive from the curb.
Inside, the couple rebelled from formality, deciding to forgo a living room. “That was one of the bigger rooms in our old house, and we never used it,” says the wife. They did, however, end up creating a library, which contains a quartet of deep-seated chairs, custom cabinetry and little else. There is also a dining room used mainly for the holidays. Combined, these formal rooms take up only 425 square feet of the first floor. More than three times that, around 1,400 square feet, was devoted to informal living areas where the family spends most of their time: the family room, kitchen and breakfast area, and screened porch.
Thoughtful space planning is also evident in the kitchen, where the boys can grab snacks from the custom-designed alder island without infringing on the so-called “work triangle,” the refrigerator, sink and stove, where cooking takes place. Also designed with the boys in mind were the furnishings, upholstered in “very forgiving fabrics,” says Morgante, such as the Hancock & Moore leather sofa in the family room and indoor-outdoor fabrics in the breakfast area and screened porch. A calming palette of soft golds, greens, blues, grays and white reigns throughout, while lighting in each room indulges the wife’s penchant for substantial light fixtures made of iron.
In the backyard, landscape designer Bill Eiserman created a series of bluestone terraces broken up by walkways and plantings. The result: The smaller spaces feel just as comfortable with a party of four or 40. “Designing the terrace layout to support the clients’ entertaining needs was done to allow for large traffic flow over the terraces and through the home, but was also designed to have a smaller group feel very comfortable in the space,” explains Eiserman. “We used the architecture of the house to create a garden that matches in feel and allows the kids enough space to still have fun in the yard.”
Because the family wanted to be in their house by the start of the next school year, a one-year construction timetable put pressure on the team, including home builder Brian Goldberg. In addition to being completely automated, the house boasts two subterranean levels that include a pool room with geothermal heating, a gym with high-impact drywall and a home theater with surround sound. Goldberg met the goal by making an “aggressive schedule and working with everybody cohesively as a team.”
In the end, the finished product was well received. “I love how it came out,” says the wife, “It’s a calming house, very peaceful—and with four boys, that’s important.”