Selling surplus and large-scale furnishings, purging wardrobes, and packing away tchotchkes were sacrifices Dona and Tim Lawler were willing to make when downsizing. Cutting back on quality in their new house design, however, was not part of the deal. “The trade-off was we would give up space, but everything about our new home would be top-shelf,” Tim says.
The Lawlers were living in Midlothian, Illinois, in an 1899 house designed by renowned Midwest architect Howard Van Doren Shaw. They loved the nearly 7,000-square-foot architecturally significant residence, but when their three daughters were nearing college age, it was time to simplify. “We had rooms that we never even entered, let alone used,” Dona says. “We wanted a place where we could live in and use every single room.”
Tim and Dona intentionally bought a small-60×120 feet-lot in Hinsdale, Illinois, knowing that would restrict the size of their new home to less than 3,000 square feet of living space.
Chicago-area architect Michael Abraham and contractor Tim Thompson eagerly took on the challenge, starting the process with a tour of the Lawlers’ historic house. “We wanted to capture the feel of an old detail-oriented space in a new home, so we showed Tim and Mike what we loved in our old one,” Dona explains.
One of those features was a screened front porch, which Abraham scaled down and reinterpreted for the new cottage-style home. The architect centered the porch at the front and lined three sides with tall screened windows with glass transoms. There are two entries, one from the front walk (making it neighborhood-friendly) and the other from the driveway side.
To give the exterior an aged appearance, Thompson tinted the stucco a soft putty color, and painters used a three-step process on the wood trim to simulate a worn patina. The sense of history continues with a custom-made front door with a rounded top and circular window inspired by the classic British designs Dona admires.
Inside, wide-plank hickory floors were distressed and stained on-site. The living room’s hickory paneling was stained to blend with the stone fireplace wall. In the kitchen, Thompson built a hickory island and topped it with irregularly sized chunks of wood “tiles.” The backsplash is end-grain slices of wood stained slightly different colors and mortared in place. “People can’t believe this is a brand-new house,” Dona says. “It has such an old soul.”
To maximize living space, Abraham designed a flowing floor plan on the main level, with rooms opening one to another. “We did fewer but larger rooms and let them overlap each other to make the house feel larger,” the architect explains. “Visually, it’s one big room differentiated by ceiling treatments.”
With its quiet palette and overscale farmhouse table, the dining room is meant for lingering dinners with friends and family. Shoes off, appetites sated, sharing stories of travels and the day’s events.
The foyer doubles as the dining room and features box beams and a tongue-and-groove wood ceiling. A custom-made round dining table expands to seat 14 people on the occasions when the Lawlers serve large groups. Without the leaves, the table is a convenient drop-off point in the entry.
Walls of windows in the living and breakfast rooms look out to a pergola-covered patio, visually expanding the living area to the outdoors. Without compromising privacy on the narrow lot, Abraham captured natural light by placing a large window on the stairway landing. On the opposite side of the house, a glass door allows light to flow through the mudroom and into the foyer.
Dona worked with the architect and builder to capture every square inch of storage space. In the kitchen, there are deep drawers in the island and ceiling-high wall cabinets. “I purged a lot of stuff, but that’s just what I needed to do,” she says. “My home is simplified, so my life is simplified. Maybe that’s why I’m so happy.”
Architect: Michael Culligan and Michael Abraham, Culligan Abraham Architecture, 148 Burlington Ave., Clarendon Hills, IL 60514; 630/655-9417 ext 312, culliganabrahamarchitecture.com.
Interior design: Diane Kahn, Oak Brook Design Inc., 34 W. 737 Country Club Rd., Wayne, IL 60184; 630/565-7001, oakbrookdesigninc.com.
Design consultant: Regina Shili, Regina Shili Interieurs, 5931 Stewart Dr., Willowbrook, IL 60527; 630/455-0918.
Contractor: Tim Thompson Custom Homes, now Mark Hickman Homes, 111 S. Vine St., Hinsdale, IL 60521; 630/654-3133,hickmanhomesinc.com.
Landscape design: Jane Dilworth & Associates, 2119 Warren Ave., Downers Grove, IL 60515; 630/515-1230, janedilworth.com.
Photography: Gordon Beall
Produced by Hilary Rose