Transitional House with Classic Elements and a Lighter Color Palette


The homeowners wanted their house designed in more of a European manner, so we went for an English Arts and Crafts look,” says residential designer Patrick Fortelka, who, along with firm principal Bruce George, designed the architecture of a Naperville home for a family of five. From the outside, the house has classic elements, such as arched windows, pitched rooflines and broad gables. The palette, however, is fresher, cooler and lighter. Case in point: The window frames are painted a vibrant teal blue, and the stuccowork is pale beige.

“For the entrance, I went with the Wrightian principle, whereby the home is experienced by moving within it as opposed to being presented,” explains Fortelka. “Instead of a grand central foyer, I created an entry path to the left of the house.” Two steps go up to an open terrace that leads to a small covered porch via an arched opening. From there, a contiguous vestibule with double arched windows culminates at the front door.

“At night, it’s lit like a little jewel,” says Fortelka. “You can see right through to the home’s interior courtyard,” which introduces another distinct architectural feature. Though the inner courtyard was initially designed to bring natural light into the south-facing home, it also met the homeowners’ love of southern European architecture. The inner courtyard is centrally situated and connects to the office, main gallery, dining room and rear kitchen. “Our family uses the inner courtyard all the time,” says the wife. “On weekends, we sit outside, have coffee, and read the paper. There is also an herb garden, so when we’re cooking, we can pop in and out.”

Other outdoor areas include a spacious covered dining porch off the kitchen where the family and their friends dine al fresco. Its view is onto the back lawn, terrace and fire pit. “Rather than tame the garden, we worked with it,” says landscape architect Eric A. Tharp. “There’s a steep grade change in the back of the house, so instead of lots of steps and patios, we retained and added oversized boulders and created a meandering dry creek bed to collect rainwater. The landscape was intended to act in conjunction with the existing natural woodsy feel of the property.”

Inside, Fortelka, who custom-designed everything from the kitchen cabinets to the fireplace mantels, brought in Tracy Hickman of Hickman Design Associates, who specializes in architectural finishes, to help pick colors and materials. “Patrick and I worked really well together,” says Hickman. “We balanced creamy beiges against the grayed walnut browns that would have been more appropriate for an English Arts and Crafts space.” Fortelka adds, “The Arts and Crafts movement was a reaction to traditional architecture and about modernizing it, so I wanted to take this further and introduce modern components and finishes to the house.”

In the main gallery, Fortelka chose period-style arched windows, but he updated them using expansive floor-to-ceiling versions. Hickman finished their frames in gunmetal gray to direct the eye outside. “I matched the paint to natural steel,” she says. Also, the walls and ceilings—even the Gothic groin-vaulted ones—are clean and simple, with minimal moldings and trim being light, not dark. “To create an old-world feel, we also used worn finishes wherever we could,” adds Hickman. “The walnut floors are hand-scraped, and the limestone flooring has chiseled edges and a brushed finish.”

Still, the layout had to work for a contemporary family. Most of the active living space is in the back of the house, with its family room, mudroom, kitchen and adjoining hearth room. “The rooms that don’t get used as much, like the office, formal dining room and wine cellar are pushed to the outer edges,” says Fortelka. “They didn’t need to be in the main path of the home.”

Once the house was completed, the homeowner furnished it herself in a transitional style tied together by a neutral palette. She veered away from formality and, above all, wanted nothing to compete with the architecture. “It’s a home people are curious about,” she says. “From when they see the inner courtyard as they pull up the drive, they keep wanting to go around the corner to see what’s next.”