A house by Chicago-based architect Chip von Weise—one of the new, more contemporary homes on Lake Geneva. Photo Gallery »
Lake Geneva’s lakefront scene is as bustling as ever with boats and sun worshipers, but the retail scene no longer revolves solely around T-shirt shops and fudge. The past couple of years have seen an influx of sophisticated stores and restaurants—not surprising, perhaps, given that this long-established resort town just two hours northwest of Chicago is second home to some of our area’s highest-profile residents (some of whom weekend in historic mansions and others who have hired big-city architects to build them new, modern ones). If you haven’t been there lately, swing on by. You won’t be disappointed.
WHERE TO SHOP
Owned by the people behind the Highland Park jeans mecca E Street Denim (which also has a Lake Geneva location), 1) Brick & Mortar Home (832 Geneva St., 262-249-0210) is situated in a two-story brick house. Entered through an enclosed porch containing Adirondack chairs and potted flowers, it is designed to feel like a real abode. A modern-day parlor is appointed with a cozy sofa and side chairs; a dining room with table, chairs, and entertaining accouterments; a bedroom with a made-up bed, linens, quilts, and robes; and another room with towels, soaps, and other bath and body products. You’ll see jewelry and whimsical home accessories, as well as cotton rugs and fabrics for custom slipcovers—a little bit of everything. We spotted a fun starburst mirror with a frame made from rolled-up and glued-together magazine pages and a pillow made from scrunched-up vintage ties.
The Lake Geneva outpost of the Chicago gallery and workshop 2) Refined Rustic (231 Cook St., 262-249-0940, refinedrustic.com) provides some refreshing industrial edge to the landscape of shops. Owned by artist and interior decorator Philip Sassano and his wife, Julie, it’s filled with funky lamps and hanging light fixtures artfully built from cleaned-up found objects (metal baskets, chicken wire, weather vanes), large-scale distressed-wood candle holders made from the legs of old country tables, three-dimensional wall collages involving cool old cameras and rusty tools (they can be custom-made to display a customer’s own collections), and vintage furniture, along with new pillows, candles, frames, and other gifty items.
If you like Tabula Tua in Lincoln Park, little 3) Abbellimento (728 W. Main St., 262-248-1900, abbellimentolg.com) is sure to strike your fancy. Brimming with elegant dishes and other tabletop pieces by the Italian line Vietri, handblown glass by Simon Pearce (an Irish company based in Vermont), colorful table linens by Garnier-Thiebaut of France, and several other imported lines of home accessories, it has a chic European feel.
4) Lilypots (605 Main St. 262-248-4200, lilypots.com) is a flower shop, plus. It’s filled with pretty blossoms and leafy plants. But there’s also a selection of pots—from simple terra cotta standbys to elaborately textured glazed numbers and white modern options in interesting forms—that will have you walking around the store saying, “I want this one, and this one. . . .” Prices are reasonable, and no pot is so precious that you would feel bad filling it with dirt and putting it on your patio.
5) Bella Tile & Stone (239 Cook St., 262-348-1600, bellatileandstone.com) is a great place for reimagining a kitchen or bathroom. With standard granite countertops and ceramic tile options that start at $6 a square foot to all manner of fancy hand-painted and natural stone tiles, as well as tiles imported from Italy and Mexico, it’s a place for browsing.
A surprising stop for home-decor inspiration is 6) Haberdapper (253 Broad St., 262-248-7700). Surprising because it’s a men’s clothing shop; inspiring because it has a gorgeous, fully operational high-end kitchen right in the middle of it. There are also lovely built-in shelving and closet systems for displaying clothes that you just might want to re-create in your home—particularly if you love that Ralph Laurenish, old-boys’-club look. The owner/designers offer interior design services, and can hook you up with people to build similar cabinetry for you. Think of it as a place to buy not just ties and khaki pants but a whole lifestyle.
Country-style home decorating lives on at the 7) Cornerstone Shop & Gallery (214 Broad St., 262-248-6988, cornerstoneshoppe.com), a town staple. The sprawling 8,500-square-foot space has frequently changing vignettes of accent furniture and accessories—some nautically themed, some French country, some more rustic, and some more modern feeling. Here you can find table linens, dishes, pottery and artwork by regional artisans, baby clothes and toys, bath and beauty products, cards and stationery, scented candles, and more.
Photograph: Greg Murphey
HOW TO GAWK
Check out the range of residential styles (Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Colonial, and Craftsman, among others) represented along the lakeshore on foot or by boat. Since all local homeowners are required to allow visitors access to the shoreline, strolling the perimeter of the 21-mile Geneva Lake Shore Path offers close-up views of the area’s mansions and estates. Or book a tour through 8) Lake Geneva Cruise Line (cruiselakegeneva.com). For information on the historic homes of Lake Geneva, check out historiclakegeneva.org; for info on local cultural events and more, see lakegenevawi.com, the Chamber of Commerce site.
WHERE TO EAT
Slightly off the beaten path, 9) Simple Café (525 Broad St., 262-248-3556, simplecafelakegeneva.com) is located in a former auto parts shop that was reinvented as a cheerful modern restaurant by architect Tom Hartz, a Chicago transplant. Open daily for lunch and breakfast, it serves creative, home-style food made with seasonal ingredients bought from local farmers (the corned-beef hash is sublime). This is a great spot to unwind and have a hearty, healthy meal. For a casual burger on the lakeshore, try 10) Popeye’s on Lake Geneva (811 Wrigley Dr., 262-248-4381, popeyesonlakegeneva.com).
Given that you have driven all the way here, you deserve to have your fudge and eat it, too. Lake Geneva’s most famous fudge, ice cream, and candy shop is 11) Kilwin’s (772 Main St., 262-248-4400, kilwins.com), part of a national chain, on the corner of Main and Broad Streets. Its fudge is $15.95 a pound. Another choice is 12) Geneva Gifts (150 Broad St., genevagiftsandfudge.com), a 50-year-old souvenir shop that sells it for $11.95 a pound, along with an amusing assortment of sundries.
WHERE TO STAY
While you can easily do a day trip to Lake Geneva, there are all kinds of places to stay overnight, ranging from the upscale Grand Geneva resort and spa (7036 Grand Geneva Way, 800-558-3417, grandgeneva.com) to small bed-and-breakfast inns, such as the simple but comfortable SevenOaks (682 Wells St., 262-248-4006, sevenoakslakegeneva.com).