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The back of the house is distinctly English, with tall brick chimneys and a slate roof, a columned pergola and long lines of faceted windows. Photo Gallery:::
Behind a tangled hedgerow in the very English countryside of West Sussex sits an achingly beautiful house whose visitors are cheerily asked to ignore the ghost sometimes heard weeping on the staircase.
That’s the kind of English country house experience that either charms the heck out of you or sends you screaming to your car.
The design of the floor in the master bathroom, inlaid with nickel filigree, was drawn from a railing pattern Jennifer Litowitz saw on the PBS series Manor House, filmed at Scotland’s Manderston House. The bathroom ceiling is done insilver-leaf wallpaper. Photo Gallery:::
Jennifer and Alec Litowitz are among the fearless former, and they’ve even conjured up their own apparition right here on the North Shore. It’s a painstakingly detailed interpretation of that Sussex house, Little Thakeham, built in 1903 by the famed architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. “We always dreamed of living in a house like this,” says Jennifer Litowitz, though she laughs that the original “is probably pretty drafty.”
Dream in hand, in 2002 the Litowitzes approached interior designer Heather G. Wells and architects Phillip Liederbach and Michael Graham and asked them to create a suburban Chicago version of the idyllic English country houses they loved.
“Everything had to be authentic” (except ghosts and drafts, one assumes), says Wells, who’s known as much for her unabashed love of history as for her star-studded client list, so she was thrilled when the Litowitzes suggested a road trip. Before committing pen to paper, the designer, her senior partner, Bruce Fox, the architects, and the Litowitzes went roaming the narrow country lanes of the English countryside in the company of a Lutyens expert.
“When we arrived at Little Thakeham, a worker was repairing the fireplace,” says Fox, “and he gave us a small piece of stone as a memento.” That fragment of Little Thakeham became, quite literally, the design touchstone for the Litowitzes’ new home, inspiring everything from the fireplaces to the color of the façade.
“After that trip, the project really picked up momentum,” says Jennifer Litowitz. “It just kept growing and becoming more detailed as we did more and more research.” The result is 10,000 square feet of manor house filled with obsessively intricate details and a mother lode of important European antiques, but it’s hardly a please-do-not-touch museum diorama. The house pays homage to family life as well as to Lutyens. “We built it first and foremost for our kids,” says Litowitz, the mother of four boys who range in age from three to ten.
Take the walnut-paneled dining room with its two enormous limestone fireplaces; it looks like an imposing “great hall,” but the flotsam of family life scattered around humanizes the formality. “Our kids go everywhere,” admits Litowitz. “Nothing is off limits.” The room’s massive 1820s-era Cuban mahogany table is typically hidden beneath layers of school projects; throw in some juice boxes and Magic Markers and the possibilities are pretty terrifying.
Interior Photography: Alan Shortall
Garden Photography: Linda Oyama Bryan