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List Price: $5.995 million
The Property: An imitation of La Lanterne, an 18th-century hunting lodge at Versailles, this Lake Bluff manor home was built in 1925 for Carolyn Morse Ely. Her architect, David Adler, was one of the great designers of Chicago country homes.
From the statues flanking the door to the arrangement of windows and other details, you can see Adler’s fondness for symmetry on the broad face of the house: everything on the left has a match on the right. All except for one feature: a columned porch on the south end of the house is missing its match. At some point, that part of the house was removed and moved to the other end of a grand lawn to become the center portion of a separate home.
The present sellers of the home, Tom and Jane O’Neill, filled the void that was left beautifully by creating an outdoor room walled by plane trees and high hedges, and decorated all around with topiary. Jane O’Neill explains that the aim here, and with the meticulous restoration that went on inside the 7,200-square-foot mansion after they bought it 15 years ago, was to honor Adler’s original intention, either by returning something to its original state or by bringing in something new that was in character.
Examples of the former include French woodwork and Chinese wallpaper in the living room that had faded over time and needed their luster returned, and a hand-painted scene of forests and birds in the master bath that had been hidden behind ordinary vinyl wallcovering and was revealed and revitalized. Examples of the latter: The dining room was lit by just four sconces; the O’Neills found four antiques that closely matched them, and now the dining room has a brighter aspect.
Adler often went on European shopping trips to bring back items from old homes there to put in new homes here. He filled this house with a roomful of French paneling, limestone mantels, baccarat chandeliers, and much more. He also filled it with light and views: The house is very broad, but only one room deep, so that from every room gets ample sunlight and has views out to the grounds. The main formal rooms—library, living, foyer, and dining—are an enfilade, or a long line. The line continues beyond to what was originally space for servants. The O’Neills have made those rooms into the informal section of the main floor, with an eat-in kitchen, a sitting room surrounded by windows, and other spaces.
On the second floor, the master suite is a mini-enfilade, starting with a formal sitting room and leading to the sleeping room. It’s hard to say how many other bedrooms the home has; the original floorplan had just two (and the sitting room) in the owner’s wing, and another five rooms in the servants’ wing. Not all of those five are used as bedrooms now. All the rooms in both wings benefit from the home’s slender design: they have views out over the grounds, both the manicured sections—formal gardens, a reflecting pool, a gravel auto court—trimmed with statuary, and the roughly three acres of woods.
With so many grand spaces, both indoors and out, Jane O’Neill told me her choice for the best room in the house is the woods.
Price Points: Now planning to downsize, the O’Neills put the estate on the market in April. Their asking price is commensurate with the record price paid for a Lake Bluff home by an end-user, this 4.68-acre estate that went for $5.5 million in 2011.
(A developer, not an end-user, paid $16 million for the estate next door to today’s property; it was later re-sold at less than half that price. Lake Bluff also had a $4 million sale earlier this year. That home stands on an acre and a half and has none of the historical charisma this one has.
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