Paul and Mariana Ingersoll appreciate the history and craftsmanship of Chicago’s older homes, an interest that stems from their own family. It all began two generations ago, when the husband’s ancestors planted roots in the city. “My grandfather moved to Chicago around 1900 to work on an engineering project,” Paul explains. “He wanted to settle near the University of Chicago, and he hired architect Howard Van Doren Shaw to build a house on the campus.”
More than a century later, it seemed pure happenstance when, during their search for a larger home, Paul and Mariana came across a red brick Georgian in Kenwood built in 1907 by the same famed architect. Nearly hidden by enormous juniper bushes, it won the couple over before they even stepped inside. “We liked the idea of bringing a home like that back,” Paul says. Fittingly, history repeated as a new generation of Ingersolls prepared to move into a Van Doren Shaw home.
The 8,000-square-foot home boasts seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms, perfect for a family with three teenage boys and a 100-pound German shepherd. “We were really lucky,” Paul says. “The bones of the house are rock solid—it was built like a fortress.” More than that, the structure features beautiful details the couple desired in a home. “The house has a great energy,” Mariana says. There are seven original fireplaces, gorgeous leaded glass and oak floors that needed only sanding and refinishing. Exquisite walnut paneling in the living room and library were intact, as was the mahogany paneling in the dining room. “When we walked through, what was really surprising to all of us was that so much was untouched and in place,” says interior designer Donna Corbat, who worked on the interiors with Heidi Johnson and Anne Lukan. As such, preservation was a major factor in every decision. “We wanted to bring the home into today’s technology and space,” says Gary Schreiber, general contractor and vice president of his firm, “but be 100 percent respectful of the original design aesthetic.”
Restoration, which would take about nine months, included necessities such as replacing the roof, relining fireplaces and making mechanical updates and structural reinforcements—all while remaining sensitive to the original architectural plan. “The strategy was to take what we already had and elevate it, not replace it,” Corbat explains. There were also differences in floor height that needed to be addressed. Moldings were recreated, dentils were lowered, and new limestone window sills were installed.
One project involved shoring up the second-floor sun room to accommodate a larger opening for steel Hope’s doors and windows that opened to the rear. “The sun room had to be dismantled piece by piece,” says millworker Ron Sychowski, who supervised the project with Schreiber. “We took pictures because we wanted to recreate what was there. It was a very delicate situation. We found some of the existing steel supports, which were paper thin, so we had to replace them. We also took out the triple-hung windows, chain and weights with pulleys and had them restored.”
Downstairs, contemporary updates were a priority for the kitchen, which hadn’t been remodeled since the 1990s. “It’s now designed for a modern family,” says architect Heidi Lightner, who had help on aspects of the home from architect Joseph Sperti—both of whom completed the project while with Gary Lee Partners and have since started their own firms. “The stove was originally situated in between the two back windows. We moved it to the center and softened it with an arch.” The range is now flanked by refrigerator and freezer columns, plus storage clad in walnut. That material also grounds the new island, which is topped with a slab of Calacatta marble. As a final touch, the lower sink wall cabinets were painted white to keep the space light.
In furnishing the home, the couple wanted to mix modern pieces with traditional and vintage ones. In response, the designers brought clean lines and bold shapes to stand up to the structure’s strong architecture, making it more welcoming. Seating is as commodious as it is elegant, with long sofas in the living room that cozy up to the stone replace. The study fireplace, meanwhile, is paired with tall, deep-seated armchairs and an original oxidized mirror so spectacular it draws the eye like a fine painting. A simple Roman shade in wool challis “lets in light while obscuring a neighbor’s house,” Corbat says.
Tempering the formality of the front rooms, a certain playfulness was deliberate in the large backyard, where the roomy terrace is laid as a giant stone chessboard, complete with 2-foot-high playing pieces. “It’s not so precious that people can’t feel casual in this big house,” Paul says. Mariana has been gradually tackling the landscape, integrating roses and transplants from the family’s previous home, including Japanese maples and boxwoods. Her father and Paul added raised cedar beds, now planted with tomatoes, green beans, snap peas and herbs.
Now, this generation of Ingersolls is right at home in their respectfully modern Van Doren Shaw residence. “The house feels smaller than when we first walked in,” Mariana says. “It has an easy flow to it. It’s peaceful to be here.”