After living in a classic, center-hall Colonial on the edge of a country club for 30 years and raising their children to established young adulthood, the owners of a North Shore property felt it was time for a change—but not in scenery. Instead of moving, they decided to tear down their existing abode and rebuild. “We needed something that would serve our lifestyle for the next 30 years,” says the wife, who wanted to maintain a smaller space and situate the primary bedroom on the main floor, keeping the upstairs bedrooms for visitors. They also wanted to simplify and reduce clutter. “That former house wasn’t going to cut it,” she adds.
While she and her husband were still in the planning stage, she saw the interior design of a friend’s home and was so impressed that she knew she’d found her designer: Pam Maher, who happened to have also been her former longtime neighbor. “She really captured not only the personality of the client, but also this intimate sense of the space,” the wife recalls. “It just felt like somebody had listened to the owner and then executed it flawlessly.”
Having built a residence in Montana some 15 years ago, the couple liked having all the creative parties collaborate from the get-go, and they knew Maher would be an excellent fit. Working with architect Steve Munson, builder James Malapanes and the residents’ longtime landscaper Bruce Everly, Maher weighed in on the interior architecture before devising a clean and contemporary yet warm plan for the furnishings, injecting the palette with just enough color to make it feel fresh and vibrant. “She loves pattern and color,” Maher says of the wife, “but this was a transition to cleaner lines.”
The constraints of the existing lot—the country club at the back and a series of beloved 100-year-old oak trees close to the house—directed Munson’s decision to stretch the layout east-west, with the common areas in the rear overlooking the greens, including a screened porch off the kitchen that features a delicate balance of openness and privacy. “They wanted a sense of flow,” the architect explains. “To be able to see from one space to the other and grab as much light off the golf course as possible.” The new construction’s barnlike structure—a dark blue exterior with light stone accents and a dark, standing-seam zinc roof—was certainly a first in the more traditional neighborhood, but it suited the couple’s release of the past. “If we were going in a new direction, it had to be totally fresh,” Munson says.
Maher brought the dramatic blue hue inside, anchoring the entry with the same shade on the ceiling and carrying it through to the kitchen cabinetry. “Because the house is so open, the exterior colors needed to relate to the interior, more so than many other residences,” she explains. Furthermore, the openness of the rooms necessitated continuity. As a result, variations of the gray-blue shade appear throughout the main floor: on the living area sofa, the dining room banquette and an ottoman in the entry, where built-in shelves serve as a library. The designer also incorporated lighter elements as a counterpoint to the dark blue, such as wood ceiling beams and paneling as well as stone fireplaces. To give the dwelling a collected feel, Maher folded in the wife’s found objects along with pieces by local artists and designers, including a blue-and-white floral wallpaper in the powder room by Chicago artist Erin Minckley.
The design is not simply beautiful, it is also attentive: All door openings are wide enough to accommodate a paralyzed friend’s wheelchair, which can clear the primary bedroom’s zero-threshold shower. “Once you’ve been through that with someone, you see the daily indignities that come from not having thoughtful design,” says the wife. For the hard of hearing, acoustics were improved with wood accents on the ceiling, which are a “more traditional height rather than grand,” she adds. That lowered ceiling height offers the added benefit of preventing echoes while making the space feel warm and enveloping.
The casual, cozy vibe is just what the owners desired. And the screened porch behind those stately old trees has become a favorite respite for lounging, coffee in hand and laptop at the ready. The owners feel heard—which is exactly what drew the wife to Maher’s work in the first place. “I always believe that people hire me to design their house, not mine,” Maher muses. “I pride myself on listening.”