Bold angles define the geometry of the rear of the house as well as the front.  Photo Gallery:::

From the outside, this mid-century residence in Winnetka, designed by Loebl, Schlossman & Bennett, looks exactly as it did when the current homeowners bought it 27 years ago from the original owner/builder. Inside, however, architect Tom Shafer and designers Ann Kaplan and Bruce Goers turned it into an homage to the best of 1950s architecture, updated for life in the 21st century.

The massive project began, as these things often do, as a modest remodeling job. An avid swimmer, the wife wanted to replace the kidney-shaped pool in the backyard. Though charming, the aging pool leaked so badly that the homeowners had to use a hose to keep it filled.

The lead-coated copper fireplace provides a textured yet clean backdrop for splashes of color created by canary-yellow poufs and a red rug.  Photo Gallery:::

The couple hired Shafer, Kaplan, and Goers, all of whom they’ve known for years, to redesign and rebuild the pool. But the more they talked about their vision with these professionals, the more they realized that the single-story house, not just the pool, needed work. The kitchen was cramped and appliances were out-of-date. Additional windows would be nice. Storage was a huge issue-there was no basement, for one thing, and the wife’s clothes closet was entirely inadequate, for another. The couple also wanted more space for their growing art collection. It became clear that a simple remodel wouldn’t do.

In fact, there was a good case to be made for a teardown, since remodeling costs would be astronomical. Dealing with the quaint wood paneling, cantilevered roof, massive glass and steel windows, brick floors and fireplace, and period-perfect drapes without destroying the home’s inner beauty would be tough. And matching the old-growth cedar ceilings? Impossible.

The couple, a pair of empty-nesters, began looking at sketches of replacement homes. But they couldn’t bring themselves to destroy the house they’d called home for so long. So they told Kaplan and Shafer to add a new entertaining space in the back, remodel the interior, and keep the front façade exactly the same.

Kaplan, who had a history with the house (her partner, Bruce Goers, knew the original owner), was relieved at their decision. She had decorated the house when the current owners first moved in; years later, she had refurbished the kitchen. In 1985 and 1994, she worked on the living room. She loved the house’s horizontal lines. "It’s beautiful, subtle, and contemporary,"she says. "It has a gentle attitude toward the land. You can barely see it from the road. Then there’s this surprise of materials inside that aren’t visible from the outside."

The wife was pleased that Shafer respected her decision not to demolish. "We had interviewed a lot of architects who wanted to make it a different house,"she says. "We wanted to keep the integrity of it. Tom was the only one who understood that."

A wall of steel-framed windows presents a generous view of the pool and backyard, and gracefully invites the outside in.  Photo Gallery:::

Shafer’s biggest challenge was bringing the house up to code without destroying the original lines. The cantilevered roof was rebuilt, but it was difficult to match the old wood with new wood, which wasn’t nearly as strong. "Fifty years’ difference in lumber, and unfortunately, the technology hasn’t improved with time,"says Shafer. He ended up fitting thicker pieces of wood and steel in unobtrusive spots to reinforce the roof. Shafer and his project architects were constantly double-checking their photos of the old roof and ceiling to ensure they captured the mood of the original.

The residence essentially got a facelift with two additions: the reconfigured kitchen and family room, and a walk-in closet for the wife.

Kaplan kept much of the existing furniture in the rebuilt residence, including a pair of Donghia chairs that she had had reupholstered ten years ago, but she also brought new pieces into the kitchen/family room, including canary-yellow poufs that provide an unexpected splash of color in an otherwise neutral space. During the summer, the space resembles a sunny dwelling in Palm Springs. "The sunlight reflects off the water in the pool and there’s a great synergy between the pool and the room,"says Shafer. "It feels twice as large."

Everyone is pleased with the result. "It turned out spectacularly,"says Shafer. The clients "allowed a lot of the design to happen. They took chances and risks and it really paid off."

Additions and overhauls can be surprisingly tricky, even for real pros. "It’s hard to do remodeling right,"he notes. "So often part of the house feels old and tired, while the rest is new, and the two don’t jibe. Here the flow is terrific."
The wife, who now has a long lap pool to replace the originl kidney-shaped one, is in awe of her new yet old living space. "There’s a saying that a person can make a difference, but a team can work a miracle,"she says. "It’s so true."

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Photography: Paul Warchol