Several years ago, a Winnetka, Illinois, couple had an epiphany when they returned to their yellow wood-frame Colonial from their vacation home in Northern Michigan: They realized they missed the open, airy space of their summer house, which the husband compares to a sophisticated, contemporary barn. “It got us thinking that we wanted to live that way all the time,” he says. So they tapped a design team to create a stucco two-story dwelling with unadorned architecture, flowing spaces and a welcoming mix of antiques and classic contemporary pieces–all awash in natural light. “The owners wanted it to be approachable and comfortable,” says Thomas Riker, who teamed with co-principal James Dolenc and project manager Jim Josephson on the project.
But first, architects Fred Wilson and Elissa Morgante, who built the residents’ original home in 2000, were brought on to do a complete renovation and addition. While that was underway, a chance meeting between Riker and the wife led to the hiring of the interiors team. The two had known each other since the 1990s, when one summer she was his manager at a Michigan home store. They had lost touch for a while, but their reconnection turned out to be serendipitous. “It was meant to be,” says the wife. And the fact that they spoke the same language when it came to design helped them fine-tune the details with ease. “Knowing her affinity for heirloom pieces, we helped choose finishes that would create the sensibility of an older home inside this renovated shell,” says Josephson.
During the overhaul, Wilson reconfigured the layout, opening up the interior rooms and expanding the footprint with the addition of a front foyer plus the sun-filled “palm room” above it, so called for the plants throughout. A primary aim was to celebrate the gorgeous backyard landscaping designed by Frank Mariani and Carrie Woleben-Meade and installed by Martin J. Silverman. So the architect added a kitchen with a groin-vault ceiling and clerestory windows, a glass-enclosed breakfast room and a loggia-like sun room with a pale blue ceiling. “When we blend new and renovated spaces, we try to blur the line between where we stop and start,” Wilson notes. Meanwhile, the exterior’s austerity draws from the turn-of-the-century Viennese style of Austrian architect Josef Hoffmann and Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow style. “I don’t think it looks modern, exactly,” says Wilson, “but it’s a cleaner line; a refined, simple elegance.”
Given the new layout, one of the challenges was to give the space some order. “We wanted to make it flow,” says Riker, “yet have the rooms feel different.” After assessing the grandness of the living and dining areas, for example, soft gray beams were added to the ceiling to bring intimacy to the rooms. Both areas, done in blues and neutrals, feature matching metal-and-glass pendants hung at the same height, which, like the beams, lend coziness to the spaces. “We needed something for the ceiling,” says Riker. “Otherwise it would feel like an airplane hangar.” Similarly, natural wood beams were used in the massive family room, resulting in a casual atmosphere that doesn’t overwhelm and a rustic vibe much like that of the couple’s summer home.
Scale was also key throughout the residence. The bestsuited furniture for the proportions of the rooms “had a kind of timeless, tailored aesthetic,” Riker says of choices such as the living room’s camel-back sofa with its elegant skirt and flared arms. But contemporary pieces mixed in lend some edge, as does the industrial lighting. Elsewhere, antiques purchased during the couple’s visits to Ireland and England were the perfect size for the new plan. A trunk in the master is an antique from London, while the contemporary walnut bed upholstered in blue mohair almost feels like it could be from the same era. “We’re big proponents of working with heirloom pieces, because that’s what gives a home character,” Josephson says. “That’s why this house is successful.