By accidentally misspelling Eames” as “Aaemes,” Brian stumbled onto an excellent eBay deal on the table and chairs used as a patio set. Photo Gallery »
Homeowner Brian Trost with the couple’s dog, Guinness. The clean, modern lines of the windows were the first thing that attracted the Trosts to the house, now clad with cedar planks, corrugated steel, and eco-smart siding. Photo Gallery »
House hunters with a mid-century modern aesthetic would likely rank Oak Park as one of the last places they’d look for a home. The suburb is known throughout the world for its abundance of historically significant Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, interspersed with rambling old Victorians. So Brian and Tina Trost consider themselves lucky to have found a home there that not only squared with their taste but also came at an affordable price.
The house was built in the mid-1980s, after the previous one had burned down. “The first thing that caught my eye was the cool windows,” Brian says. The home needed a complete design overhaul, not to mention a gut rehab of the two bathrooms and kitchen, but the couple decided that the basic, clean-lined structure was something they could work with.
The gut jobs were done by professionals, but Brian did much of the remaining work, including overhauling the windows. (His day job is creative director at an ad agency; Tina is a court clerk at the Daley Center.) The glass didn’t need to be replaced, but the “orange-glow-stained” interior trim, as Tina calls it, which looked like a badly executed homage to Wright, did. New, stripped-down white trim simplified the look dramatically. For windows where the couple wanted privacy but not drapes, they hit upon a perfect solution on one of their innumerable trips to Home Depot—Gila frosted window film, an inexpensive, translucent acetate that can be trimmed to size and stuck to glass.
In the small, cramped kitchen, a badly placed island prevented the oven door from opening all the way. Closing off one of the two entryways to the room actually opened things up, by creating a solid wall that could be lined with cabinets and more counter space. To furnish the kitchen, the Trosts splurged on a Herman Miller Eames table and chairs they found online. It would prove to be the first of many such purchases, inspired by Brian’s childhood passion for classic TV spy shows. He had always been drawn to mid-century modern furnishings without quite knowing why, he recalls. “Then when I was older I made this connection: It’s furniture I’d seen in an old ’70s Doctor Who episode.”
The Trosts have amassed their collection of modern furniture slowly over the years. “It was pretty empty in here for a while,” Tina says, adding that the annual Knoll sale at the Merchandise Mart became a major event in their lives. “We’d focus on one piece and save up all year.”
Photography: Andreas Larsson
The Trosts, huge music fans, refer to the hieroglyphically marked patio they inherited as the tape deck. Photo Gallery »
Serendipity also has played a role in their acquisitions. One day Brian was riding the Green Line when he spotted a pair of orange Eames rockers in a Dumpster and hopped off at the next stop. “I would have had a matched set,” he says ruefully, “but I could only carry one.” Another time, he noticed a George Nelson side table loaded down with plants in a colleague’s office and offered to swap him a larger, brand-new table for the Nelson, which the co-worker was happy to do.
With the inside of the home coming along, the Trosts turned to the outside, where rotting 20-year-old siding made the place look like a pea-green ski chalet. Ever since they’d bought the house, they’d pondered what they could do to transform the exterior, and finally stumbled upon inspiration when they drove past a traditional stucco home with a contemporary-looking cedar section on the front. They contacted the architect, Casimir Kujawa, described in loose terms the look they were after, and were thrilled with the industrial-looking design he created: panels of corrugated steel for the first story; slate-gray HardiPanel, an eco-smart siding made from wood pulp, cement, and sand, for the second. Cedar planks were used to create an overhang protecting the front door and to clad the first floor in back. “Casimir knew the materials and how to keep them in our price range,” Tina says.
Brian, who has a graphic-design background, put his creative skills to work on the landscaping. The backyard, where the only signs of life used to be an old swing set and a doomed Dutch elm, has become a lush sanctuary with a pergola and a koi pond. Native grasses and shrubs provide year-round interest as well as berries and nesting spots for birds. In contrast with the two-dimensional work he usually does, Brian says, “it’s been nice to design something that has more of a purpose, and to see the design take on its own life.”
The couple describe the satisfaction they’ve found in devoting so much attention and care to creating a space they love. “I appreciate our home more,” Brian says, “because I gave up my time to do it.”
Photograph: Andreas Larsson