For a pair of suburban Chicago empty nesters searching for a home in Hinsdale, Illinois, it was like being struck by the thunderbolt: As soon as they laid eyes on the newly constructed Belgian-style farmhouse, they fell under its romantic spell. Much to their consternation, however, so did everybody else—and it was snatched up by another buyer within hours. In a lucky twist, the builder, Julie Laux, had another property in the planning stage with the same designer, Brynn Olson, and architectural designer, Patrick Fortelka. Fortified by their confidence in the trio’s previous collaboration, the couple jumped at the chance to replicate that magic from the ground up.
Because Hinsdale’s housing stock spans most of the 20th century, the client chose a similar modern farmhouse style to bridge the neighborhood’s mix of traditional and contemporary architecture. “We wanted a home that would integrate into the community but also offer the comforts of a newer design, and this style struck the right balance,” says the husband, a lawyer and part-time inventor who holds many patents. He also cites a far less obvious influence, albeit one that’s more conceptual than aesthetic. “Growing up in Chicago, I’ve always been aware of how well the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe works at bringing the outdoors into the living space, and that idea was always in the back of my mind.”
Tying the interiors to the outside environment is accomplished in several ways: Belgian bluestone, which paves the portico leading to the large glass front doors, extends into the entry hall, blurring the lines between indoors and out. Other exterior materials make cameo appearances inside the home, too. The façade’s golden-hued brick, which was salvaged from a local Gerber baby food factory, continues in the foyer and reappears throughout the house via interior walls and fireplace surrounds. Flecked with weathered hints of light blue and mint green, its unusual patina is a faded relic from a bygone era when advertising signage was painted directly onto buildings. “We used a lot of the exterior brick purposely on the inside because we wanted the house to have that sense of history and look like it’s been added onto over time,” says Fortelka.
Thanks to a clever floor plan, the home unfolds gracefully and gradually without ever losing sight of that outdoor connection. “Instead of being a box with a dark center, the layout is an H-shape, so it has less at its core and more on its edges,” says Fortelka. As a result, most of the structure is only one room deep, and each of those rooms features two walls of windows, allowing the spaces to be drenched in natural light.
For the interiors, the clients gave Olson free rein to get creative—and it shows, from the dark and dramatic study to the playful custom rope bed in one of the guest rooms. Because the couple was sold on the overall vibe of the team’s previous project, she stuck to a similar pared-down palette of soothing neutrals. Contemporary artworks by Chicago’s own Francine Turk and Cleveland Dean provide high-contrast accents. “You can never go wrong with a beautiful piece of black-and-white abstract art,” Olson notes. “It makes a room feel fresh, especially when placed in a more traditional space.”
While an array of cool grays and sapphire-like blues dominates most of the rooms, the lower level, which features an extensive wine cellar and bar, relies on warmer tans and creams to convey an air of relaxed elegance. Deep window wells and a glass staircase keep the space feeling remarkably open and bright, dispelling conventional notions of a what a subterranean rec room should be. “Part of our ethos when we design is to focus on the areas that people might ignore,” says Olson. “When you put time and effort into something like the basement, you’re going to get a return on the investment because people are going to gravitate toward it.”
The entertaining-ready space has become a favorite of the clients, though when pressed to cite the best part of the entire project they agree that it was the moment they first saw the completed house. “It was just like the big reveal on one of those TV makeover shows,” says the husband. “We had gone to a wedding in the Florida Keys and when we came back, everything was in place.” Adds the wife, “Had the furnishings been brought in piece by piece, I would have had time to overanalyze each item. But when you see it all together at once, you can’t help but stand back and admire how beautifully it all flows.”