After a couple who had been living in downtown Chicago expanded into a family of five, the search began for a more spacious home to raise their three children. Having outgrown their small townhouse, they found the space they needed in a Georgian Colonial with a sprawling backyard in bucolic Lake Forest. “My husband is from Lake Forest, and it’s a great place to raise kids,” says the wife. The 50-year-old house had undergone several renovations, however, leaving its interior with oddly segmented spaces that lacked flow, and, as much as the couple loved the home’s classic architecture, they yearned to make the house more functional and give it a fresh look.
To begin, the couple hired designer Kate Marker, along with builder and friend William H. McNaughton III. “They have a big family and they entertain a lot, so it was important to make the home not just a beautiful space, but comfortable for the kids and their extended family, as well,” Marker says. Respecting the neighborhood’s architectural vernacular was especially important to keep in mind. “The City of Lake Forest is very historically conscious, so we tried to stick with the original architect’s concept,” McNaughton says of the renovation of the entry. “The inspectors who came out from the city were very impressed with the result.”
For the interiors, the chief task was to make the floor plan more family-friendly. The kitchen was closed off from the main living space—a configuration the family had also dealt with in their previous home. “My husband is the chef of the family, so when we entertained, he was in the kitchen and everybody else was in the dining room and family room,” the wife says. To remedy the situation, the team knocked down walls to open up the kitchen to the family room and breakfast area. Now, as dad whips up a meal, he can chat with the kids as they play in the main living area. In addition, steel columns holding up the second floor, which couldn’t be removed, were instead dressed up as decorative elements. “They still create a bit of a separation, but now you can see from the kitchen through to the other side of the house,” McNaughton says. The kitchen was also gutted and reconfigured for maximum functionality, with the husband carefully assessing the placement of appliances, including in the new handy butler’s pantry. “The butler’s pantry now has a beverage fridge, with the kids’ juice boxes, so even the littlest one can get to them,” says the wife.
Marker then brought in transitional furnishings to honor the home’s traditional bones while giving the space a renewed vibe. “It was really about adding modern touches with updated fabrics like a fun geometric pattern or a really clean leg on a piece of furniture,” she explains. The long, skinny living room presented a design challenge, as well, so the designer added a Lillian August daybed that gave the room more flexibility. “It’s floating in middle of the room to use as a sofa or chaise,” she says. “The legs are more traditional and we put a modern fabric on it.” Meanwhile, the office also needed some sprucing up, so the team painted the existing cabinetry using an eco-friendly paint.
Whites and grays found throughout the space offer a fresh vibe, while the homeowners’ favored blues and greens were added through various furnishings and accents to provide splashes of color. Marker also incorporated patterns—herringbone, ikat and chevron—to delight the eye. “Patterns give a pop of interest, so we brought them into every room, whether it was with pillows, artwork or a rug,” she says. “One of my favorite elements is the dining room wallpaper with its embroidered fabric ribbons; it gives the dining room some uniqueness. The wallpaper is a light color, so even though it has a black pattern, it really opens up the space.”
Kid-friendly fabrics were also a priority. “We’re not the type of people who only let the kids eat in the kitchen,” the wife says. “They’re climbing over couches and jumping from here to there, so the family room really had to be livable. Kate was very helpful in finding fabrics that could handle three young kids.” For the furnishings, the designer incorporated durable fabrics, protected with Scotchgard; she even considered how children run around a room when choosing where to place them. Marker and the wife also came up with solutions to keep clutter at bay. In the family’s previous townhouse, coats and scarves were tossed near the front door, so they especially appreciated their new mudroom complete with five cubbies, one for each member of the family. “Now the kids have a place to put their stuff,” the wife says.
The architecturally distinctive home now functions for modern-day living, with a fresh style that provides the perfect backdrop for everything the family loves to do. “It’s a great house to entertain in,” the wife says. “We have barbecues in the summer, and in the fall, we’ve been doing more family-oriented activities, like Sunday afternoon chili parties. We’ve been really happy here.” Adds Marker: “I love how comfortable this house turned out. Every room feels very usable and inviting.”