While working on last week’s roundup of North Shore homes, I had the idea that I’d do one of McMansion-era, McMansion-price homes. Not pure McMansions—a turkey shoot alone seemed like a grim ordeal, and if you want a turkey shoot from which you can actually learn something about architecture and design, well, McMansion Hell is better at it than anything I can give you.
Instead, I wanted something about the size, price, age, and even the aesthetic of a McMansion but that was actually money well spent. I found five post-1980 homes over a million dollars, in the suburbs you’d expect to find them, that are just pretty cool: unique, expensive, big, but also tasteful. Excess, but not wretched excess. One is a cheat—just shy of ten million is a mansion, I reckon—but it’s an especially good example of dialing that balance in.
This is pretty clearly the work of a capital-A architect—in this case, a later work by the late Roy Binkley, who designed midcentury modern homes around Chicago, who was clearly able to adapt to the 1980s. The triangular entryway continues all the way to the rear, through a spectacular postmodern main room that combines a dining room and parlor. For a cozier place to eat or talk, there’s a warm eat-in kitchen and a den off the patio with a corner fireplace. Around back, there’s a homey greenhouse/outdoor room and a pool, and lots and lots of green—appropriate for a home adjacent to Ragdale, Howard Van Doren Shaw’s old getaway.
This is kind of my dream home: a little bit midcentury ranch, a little bit A-frame, a little bit 1980s Michael Mann movie set. Open the front door and there’s immediately a lake view, since almost every room in this house has a lake view. That also includes the indoor pool, which looks down not just at the lake, but the outdoor pool, which looks down the bluff to the boathouse, which is on the lake, and which houses not just boats but two fireplaces, a kitchen, and a bar. And despite all this… it’s pretty tasteful. The main house lets the lake do almost all the work, especially in the home office, with its sweeping view of Lake Michigan.
Entertain your many guests in the finest Y2K style with this house, built in 1999 at the very tail end of the century, and postmodernism. Or, another way of stating its age: there’s a wall-mounted landline phone on the mustard-painted wall next to the black-marble bath. There are a lot of mustard walls in this house. There’s also plenty of glass: a giant arc of glass blocks, mirrored by a two-story bay-window stack that envelops the sunken living room, which gets light from third-story windows that overlook the lofted second-floor hallway. Yes, of course there’s a sauna.
Everyone loves A-frames: they’re striking, affordable, let in tons of light, and are usually associated with getaways to the lakes or mountains. The downside? Since they’re usually affordable getaway spots, they’re usually just the frame, without much space or luxury. But what if I told you you could get an A-frame surrounded by a big ranch, that drops down to a pool, that sits above a private lake? The A-frame sets up a big main room, with huge river-stone pillars framing a stout fireplace, surrounded by lofted hallways that give it a cabin feel. In the rear, the frame tails out into a rounded living room with a wood-paneled ceiling off a huge porch. There are great lines and angles throughout, down to the complex geometric tile in the master bath, which features two massive skylights angling down over the bathtub.
Aah, that’s the good stuff: a midcentury silhouette opening up to whitewashed stone, a trapezoidal atrium and lots and lots of mirrors. White marble, white Barcelona chairs, white walls, a mirrored fireplace, and so many mirrors in the bathroom it practically turns into an infinity room. Above the bathtub: angled greenhouse windows. And downstairs: a sunken… bar? Built in 1985, this is what the future was supposed to look like. We can still get there, but until then, this has been perfectly preserved.