The most compelling reason to live on the lake is for the views. Yet, after a very long search on the North Shore for just the right lakefront property, the 1937 French Provincial that one family bought didn’t relate to the water at all.
Nor did it suit the sleek aesthetic and easy lifestyle they had honed with their three sons in a modern 1970s split-level across town. A renovation done in the 1980s had given the lakefront house a campy demeanor, with mirrored walls, Grecian columns, French Provincial wallpaper, rams’ horn hardware and bejeweled faucets.
What it did have were good bones, great tableland, a gorgeous façade, an elegant footprint, plenty of space and loads of potential. “If we were going to move there from a house we loved, it had to be worth our while,” explains the wife. “And this was a very special property. We figured we’d revamp the kitchen and master suite and streamline the interiors.”
Yet, once they brought on architects Elissa Morgante and Fred Wilson, the project kept growing as they realized the home’s many shortcomings. “They needed to open up the house to the lake,” says Wilson. “It ran parallel to the water and didn’t take advantage of the water views at all. And most of the windows that did exist lakeside were small and covered with heavy metal shades to block the sun.”
The overwrought décor, at odds with the home’s elegant architecture, was also an issue. “You had to pick through the house to see the bones,” says Wilson. The same was true of the once-stately grounds, which “were totally chaotic,” says landscape architect Drew Johnson. “Over the years, each owner did their own thing, so there were all these walls breaking up the property and diminishing the sightlines to the lake.” Says the wife, with a laugh, “We ended up touching every square foot.”
Decades of inappropriate interventions were removed, reducing both house and grounds to a clean slate. From there, the front façade was restored and given a gracious new courtyard and entry drive, the grounds were reoriented to relate to the lake, and a majestic pool and deck got a total overhaul. “The goal was to make it look like we were never there, and attain landmark status,” explains Wilson.
Inside, only the living and dining rooms remain intact, though they were also painstakingly refurbished. The biggest gestures on the first floor merged the kitchen with the butler’s pantry and turned a dark library and screened-in porch into a spacious, airy family room with expansive floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake. It was also given tall new windows to provide lake views.
Marrying the family’s streamlined contemporary aesthetic with the home’s more formal historical demeanor was a challenge left to designers James Dolenc and Thomas Riker. The modern fixtures, finishes and furnishings that the wife originally thought would work well in the home, “wouldn’t do the setting justice, but über traditional wasn’t an option,” says Dolenc. He and Riker skillfully helped the wife outfit the home in mostly clean-lined transitional options, and they added personality and depth with a smattering of significant antiques.
Vintage Italian black dressers in the foyer found by the designers at Blend Interiors in Los Angeles add a touch of glamour to the already alluring space, while a curvy metal-and-antique glass lantern from Urban Electric glimmers in the hallway and vintage metal shelving from Modern Times creates the perfect note in the sunroom. The designers kept the master suite’s furnishings soft and welcoming with a Paris Writing Desk by Maxine Snider and an Empire chair by Niermann Weeks.
The entire second story was also reconfigured, especially the master suite, which had absorbed the attic to become a loft in the 1980s. A deftly detailed vaulted ceiling gave the room back its architectural vigor and allowed the owners to reclaim the attic, which proved to be “one of the trickier aspects of the reconstruction,” says builder Matthew Kurtyka. It also got big new dormers with windows overlooking the lake, of course.
Copious lake views and landmark status were both realized at the project’s completion, as well as acceptance. “We never thought we’d be so at home in a more traditional setting,” says the wife. “But the blend of styles and glorious views strike the perfect balance.”