Neatly nestled among 6 acres of rolling hills and surrounding woodland in Barrington Hills is a graceful, contemporary take on a classic Belgian farmhouse. Designed for a family of five and defined by natural light and casual airiness, it’s as befitting of the European countryside as it is of suburban Chicago—which was exactly the goal of the homeowner when the house was in the planning phase.
The lady of the house initially looked to her roots when contemplating the type of home she wanted. “My heritage is Scandinavian, but I didn’t want to go that way because it’s too minimal,” she says. “Then, in my research, I kind of fell upon this Belgian farmhouse look.” With that decided, she enlisted designers Kate Marker and Maggie Getz—with whom she works at Marker’s eponymous design firm—as well as architectural designer Patrick Fortelka, builder Patrick Lytle and landscape designer Rudolph Magnani to realize her vision. She explained to them that she wanted the aura of an old structure that had newer additions to it, with clean lines and traditional elements. “I didn’t want something that had a precise time stamp,” she explains.
For the exterior, Fortelka used a lime-washed brick that would fade with age. Says Lytle, “We wanted to be cognizant of what the brick would look like when it was revealed. We went with a taupe color so that, when it did reveal itself, something nice would come through.” They added to the equation a cedar shake roof and cedar siding, the material being an inherently rot-resistant wood that weathers and darkens over time. “It’s really true to the types of homes in northern Europe,” says Fortelka. “It’s absolutely beautiful.”
The natural wood theme continues in the antique pine ceiling beams and white walls partnered with natural white-oak cabinets, walls and flooring. The result is a unifying feel throughout the home, but Marker was deliberate when it came to defining the spaces. “Sometimes houses feel too open and you don’t know where to gravitate,” says Marker. “This one is open, but it’s grounded. Every room makes sense.”
That means every space is utilized, including the dining room, which, in so many homes, is often largely ignored other than during the holidays. Marker installed a handcrafted oversize table by local artisan Chad Musgraves that expands up to 12 feet and surrounded it with casual chairs covered in stain-resistant fabric that encourages regular family use. “I really wanted a big dining room table where people can linger instead of just wanting to get up and go away,” the wife says. “Also, I can sit there and do my work, enjoy the views and wait for the kids to come walking up the driveway after school.”
Marker balanced the lightness of the house with touches of dark colors, among them blue-green pillows and blue-gray lamps in the master bedroom, cognac leather chairs in the family room and charcoal-hued windowpanes throughout. She took it to another level in the cozy den, where deep midnight walls are paired with a tufted velvet sofa of the same color and camel-colored leather armchairs. The final result, the designer says, is “a decidedly moody vibe.”
The handsome screened porch, with its cathedral ceiling and prairie views, is a perfect spot for morning coffee and embodies one of Fortelka’s design directives: to create a space where the clients can be integrated into the landscape from the inside of the house, a concept he calls “living in the world.” To achieve this, Magnani selected a number of deer-resistant plants with a restrained palette to reflect the style of the home. “The house is an extremely handsome take on a Belgian farmhouse with modern riffs,” he says. “I wanted the landscaping to reflect that with simple modern forms. Repetition of plants with references to classic European formalism set the entire vocabulary of the design.” It’s all part of a three-year landscape plan, which will soon include the planting of indigenous grasses and forbs.
“I like how we designed a new home that feels like it has that old history to it,” says Marker. “It looks and feels like it’s been there forever.” It’s a quality that the architect finds equally appealing. Says Fortelka, “There’s almost a question as to, ‘Is this an old house that’s been renovated or is it new?’ I think that concept is kind of magical.”