Our firm’s relationship these clients dates back eight years. Back when they first began their hunt for site to build a house. Avid horticulturalists, they sought the rarest of gems – a fully sunny property on Chicago’s Northshore. Thanks to Mr. T’s infamous 1980s Lake Forest tree massacre and the ensuing protection ordinances, finding a naturally open property proved to be a challenge. Clearcutting a site was in direct conflict project’s ethos. Five years after the search began, the final site was found. An ideal open location on the edge of Wilmette, a few blocks west of Lake Michigan and south of a commuter line linking the community to downtown.
The 2,100 square foot layout of the house is shaped by the site. A 29-foot span of glass along the south side of the house opens directly – almost shockingly for this context – onto the back garden. An extension of the house’s exterior walls and roof shelters this elevation from direct sunlight during the summer and from the sights of nearby neighbors year-round. Opening the interior of the house so much to the rear yard meant positioning the garage at the front of the property. This location is rarely a neighborly gesture. To combat the telltale volume of the garage, its street facing wall is stretched across the width of the site. A portal in the wall leads into a semi private entry court.
The house’s exterior materials were kept modest – white stucco, neutral toned cement board lap siding, and black Richlite panels. They serve as a quiet backdrop to the vivid colors, shapes, layers, and textures of the plantings.
Two key interior elements aim to balance the rear yard panorama. A solid dark volume anchors the seating area. Clad in the same Richlite as the exterior, the massing includes a fireplace, oxidized steel shelves, and a hidden closet. In contrast, the kitchen and dining zones are backed by a light infused composition of an open tread staircase, upper Ikea cabinets repurposed into a segmented sideboard, and painted 2x4s and 1x3s. All in white.
A door set beyond the stairs provides a direct connection between the yards and a seedling hatchery set up in the basement. Tucked behind the kitchen is a study that serves double duty as a guest room. The upstairs houses three bedrooms. In summer a whole house fan atop the stairwell cools the house by pulling hot air up and out. One more reason to turn off the air conditioning, slide open back doors, and enjoy the back garden.