There is something undeniably romantic about Tudor homes. From the steeply gabled rooflines to the brick walls thick with ivy, they possess an old-world allure reminiscent of storybook houses. It was those iconic characteristics—along with diamond-pattern leaded-glass windows, parquet flooring and intricately carved millwork—that drew a couple with three children from city life in a contemporary condo to a beautifully preserved 1928 Tudor revival structure in Glencoe.
Designed by late architect Homer G. Sailor, who worked on many Southside communities, the residence had been designated a significant home by the Glencoe Historic Preservation Commission for being an exemplary illustration of its architectural style. According to the wife, the exquisite craftsmanship of the building proved irresistible. “It was love at first sight,” she says, adding the house also had a desirable seven generously sized bedrooms and a recent three-story addition, which included a new master bedroom, family room, media room and kitchen. “Once you’ve seen that level of detail, there’s no turning back.”
But in historic houses, there can also be a museum-like quality—think: stuffy—that is less than appealing for a young family. The owners’ desire to infuse the home with a new vitality while respecting its venerability led them to designers James Dolenc, Thomas Riker and Jim Josephson, who identified the plan at hand. “Our goal was getting a young couple coming from a downtown lifestyle to buy into the elements needed to achieve freshness while keeping things contextual,” Dolenc explains.
Any doubts about convincing the homeowners quickly abated when the trio’s first suggestion to paint the home’s natural woodwork white was met with enthusiastic approval. “It seemed somewhat revolutionary, but they convinced us that’s how it would have been done in the 1920s,” the husband says. Other cosmetic fixes soon followed, including refinishing and staining the oak floors and reconditioning the wood beams. “Then we persuaded the husband to let us paint the knotty pine paneling in his den a deep teal color,” Riker says. To complete the space’s modern transformation, the designers pulled up the dated burgundy carpet and covered the ceiling with a William Morris-style paper.
The paint on the interiors was barely dry when a burst pipe in a steam shower flooded the entire backside of the house. Serendipitously, the accident occurred at an ideal time: Architects Julie Hacker and Stuart Cohen, along with general contractor Steve Sturm, had just been brought on to remodel basement areas and rework aspects of the family room and kitchen. “The kitchen was entirely closed off, and I wanted to be able to see my children in the family room,” the wife explains. In response, the duo restructured the south wall that divided the kitchen and family room by replacing the arched openings with wider rectangular ones and added interior windows on both sides of the replace. “The latter brings light into the enclosed kitchen and lets the wife keep an eye on her children,” Hacker says. They also repainted the woodwork in both spaces the same white as the rest of the house.
In the breakfast nook, Hacker and Cohen installed two glass-fronted cabinets on both sides of the existing window. They removed a cabinet that separated the area from the family room—situated three steps below—and replaced it with a railing that matched the wood one that leads to the second floor. “Now the two spaces are open to each other, and there’s a better flow and a sense of connection,” Cohen says.
Spatial connections also occur in the landscape, where an existing half-circle driveway had effectively separated the house from the front lawn garden. To lead visitors to the main door, the owners tasked landscape architect Guillermo Castellanos with creating a walkway through the vegetation. “We added stepping stones that meander through a cottage garden filled with structured boxwoods, iris, Casablanca lilies and scented peonies for sensory stimulation,” he says.
Once inside, guests see a bridge between past and present via furnishing shapes and colors. In the living room, for instance, the designers balanced a 1950s glass-and-bronze coffee table with a contemporary wood-frame sofa and classic tufted chairs. “We incorporated a pop of burgundy in the room through the chairs to add a historic color to the neutral palette,” Riker says. Meanwhile, a restrained beaded chandelier in the dining room provides the perfect complement to the carved quatrefoil ceiling. Large-scale curved chairs encircling a round wood table stand up to the space’s powerful geometric millwork. Nearby, a relaxed atmosphere pervades the family room, where “we used grass cloth on the ceiling inlay to keep the space soft and approachable,” Dolenc says. A sectional sporting what he calls “bulletproof fabric” wraps around an outsize ottoman topped in faux leather, designed with jumping kids in mind.
With the help of art consultant Kate Lane Ferraro, the owners selected paintings that carry on the interior’s transitional leanings. Instead of formal pieces such as landscapes, strong abstracts counter the home’s traditional beams and molding patterns. It was all part of a guided design process that helped the couple bring their youthful city style to a historic home in an appropriate way. “We were exposed to so much—it was truly an education,” the husband says. “The entire house was remade with us in mind, and it really does reflect who we are.”