Traditional Touches Help This New Build Fit into Its Historical Neighborhood
The path to making an old house feel new is rather simple: Power-wash to brighten the facade and remove decades of unattractive weathering; update the palette with fresh coats of paint in in-spiring colors; reupholster seating with cushions that are stuffed firm enough to look polished but have enough give to allow for comfortable lounging; and install appliances that dazzle with technology's new bells and whistles. Making a new build feel like it matches the almost century-old tenure of other houses in a neighborhood, on the other hand, is a more challenging feat.
When Atlanta architect Stan Dixon shook hands over a deal to work on a multiyear project on Chicago's North Shore, he was determined to achieve an aged and historical aesthetic even though he was tearing down what existed and starting from scratch. The homeowners, a young city-dwelling couple who were relocating to the suburbs to raise their family, wanted to live in a home that read old. Getting to that point, of course, would require a deep dive into research and a strong commitment to detail.
"When the couple traveled to meet me in Atlanta, our conversations were centered on a house that felt Southern even though it would be built in Chicago," Dixon says. "Next was to create a house that appeared as if had always been there. My goal was to rise to the occasion and meet the standards of some of the great architects of the past whose work is represented in the area."
Dixon turned to the sensibilities of classic architecture as he designed plans for the Georgian-style home. He first set a hierarchy for the spaces. The entry hall, paneled library, living room, and dining room would shine on their own with rich details. The architecture would then relax in the family wing of the house, still formal in its own right, but lighter and less buttoned-up. Understanding that the greatest accessory is natural light, Dixon oriented the house so it would capture both the midday and afternoon sun.
The structure was peppered with permanent frills designed to honor history: custom millwork, arched built-ins, fireplace surrounds with egg-and-dart moldings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and reclaimed heart pine floors. But when it came to adding softness, a second figure, Atlanta-based interior designer Suzanne Kasler, entered the picture to extend the beauty of the architecture to the decoration.
"This couple have a passion for design and wanted to be involved," Kasler says. "They have an appreciation for antiques and wanted a collection of pieces so that the house would look as if it had been put together over time. We placed antiques in every room along with accessories and artwork that were new and modern. It was all about the balance."
While the architecture spoke to formality, the decoration took a livable approach. Take the foyer, for instance. A stroll through the front door leads to an inviting snapshot of the welcoming interiors to come. A sisal entry rug and a runner that accordions up the staircase cushion hardwood floors. With the living room to the left, Kasler didn't want to overwhelm the entry with too many furniture pieces. An old pale blue sofa introduces a subtle moment of color and references the collection of blue-and-white ceramics assembled on a round table.
Kasler kept the design simple in the living room with furnishings that are clean-lined and edited. A creamy, all-ivory palette glows with warmth and is a chic foil for a mélange of sophisticated furniture that includes a traditional English sofa, glass-and-brass occasional tables, and a pair of French armchairs. Arched built-ins that Dixon had carved on each side of the fireplace to contrast its square elements showcase the texture of old leather-bound books and an array of cream and gold ceramic vases. A modern abstract painting in orange and fuchsia jolts the creamy ivory palette.
Symmetry was a key component throughout the formal wing of the house, and that especially shows in the dining room. Wrapped in a stately hunt scene that's painted on wallpaper panels, the space features a scheme of greens and browns, a repeat, perhaps, of the backyard and gardens viewed from the room's floor-to-ceiling windows. Wainscoting provides pause from the active wallpaper.
"They loved this classic scene," Kasler says. "Since they were going to be living outside of the city, the couple agreed to take the design one step further so that it would feel like they were in the middle of the country. It's quiet but with so much interesting movement."
An impressive highlight of the house is the paneled library, clad floor to ceiling in wood with a deep patina mastered by a finisher from Atlanta. To create a clubby feel, the room mixes furniture and accessories that veer toward masculine: a pair of matching sofas covered in a toasty gray-brown velvet; plaid, used on a custom carpet, a slipper chair, and drapery panels; red accents from a wing chair and seating around a game table; and a tiger-print ottoman that offers a spot for elevated feet.
The library demonstrates the success of mixing traditional and modern. A painted portrait adds a decorative layer to a built-in bookcase, while an abstract nestles into decorative molding.
A timeless ivory kitchen provides a functional spot for the homeowner, who cooks frequently for her family. The banquette across from the island is backed by windows covered in natural woven shades. The pantry, dressed with a charming shade of bright blue, surprises against the otherwise neutral palette.
The neutral coloration of the appointments in the kitchen and eating area don't sacrifice interest. Accents, including a nickel range hood, wood furniture, natural fiber window shades, and a strong pop of blue cabinetry in the adjoining pantry, contrast the all-ivory spaces.
The casual dining area is wrapped in windows that invite the glorious outdoors inside. The low board ceiling creates intimacy and relates to the casual wing of the house. "I didn't want the ceiling to appear decorative," Dixon says, "but rather as a requirement that functioned structurally." A sisal rug anchors an English wood table surrounded by upholstered host chairs and Windsor side chairs.
The palette continues in the primary bedroom. Intentionally kept neutral to be serene, the bedroom charms with elegance and refinement from a French bench and armchair, a Lucite desk, and a desk chair with a whimsical silhouette.
To validate the idea that the house had existed for decades, Dixon included paneled walls, built-ins, and even a fireplace in the warm gray primary bathroom. A marble-and-brass vanity pushes glamour into the bath space while an old chair introduces worn leather.
To establish a casual vibe that would contrast the formality of the house, the garage was clad in fieldstone and centered on the pool.
The pavilion was built to balance the garage and was kept classic, clean-lined, and minimal to make the space feel like the family was on vacation. It's decorated as a living room with natural-color performance fabrics that provide a comfortable spot to bask in warm weather.
With uncompromising attention and sensitivity to history, Dixon and Kasler skillfully created a home that honors the traditions of the past but keeps a livable foundation for new traditions to be made.
"This wasn't a statement about what they could do; rather, it's building a stage for them to live," Dixon says. "Their love for design and architecture made the project special. They are an active family. They entertain. Their exquisite taste and casual lifestyle, commitment to history, and open mind to what's new prove that all can coexist beautifully."