A compact modernist escape that gives illusions of grandeur
The homeowners opted for several built-ins, including a bar (below) and a desk, to maintain an architectural feel in the house. Continuing the line of the windows with a ledge above the desk and a niche over the bar pulls the look together. Photo Gallery:::
A Chicago couple, an attorney and a psychologist, were staying at a small cottage tucked away in a wooded resort in Napa Valley, when—as often happens when urbanites get out of Dodge—one looked at the other and said, "Wouldn't it be nice to have something like this to get away to on weekends?"
The hunt for a place began immediately upon their return to their three-bedroom Streeterville condo. Finding the right location turned out to be easy—they quickly fell in love with Beverly Shores, a community of some 1,000 residents along Lake Michigan in northern Indiana. But after looking at too many houses that they found "big and ugly,"they realized that they didn't want to buy a predictable three- or four-bedroom single-family home. They decided to build something "simple, natural, and uncontrived that was also architecturally significant,"explains the attorney.
Enter Valparaiso, Indiana–based architect Fred Bamesberger, a lifelong Hoosier who knows the sandy soil of his home state like the back of his hand (and has all the right connections with reputable contractors). With Bamesberger as their ally, the couple found an unlikely, yet perfect, plot of land—a quirky, sloping corner lot less than a third of an acre in size. Surrounded by pines, it had the privacy the couple craved. As for finding a way to preserve as many of those pines as possible (required by the local planning commission) and dealing with the slope: That was the architect's job.
Of course the owners had their own requirements, too. They wanted one bedroom, a den, a screened-in porch, and a big, open living space. They also needed a garage and a basement in which to eventually create additional living space. From there, it was an open dialogue between clients and architect, with enough wiggle room in the budget to satisfy both parties. They agreed on a cedar-clad exterior trimmed with copper, which Bamesberger loves for its durability and the beautiful patina it acquires over time.
Bamesberger shrewdly built the house into the hill, making the most of the height it offered. From the front, the structure looks like a formidable two stories, but the lower level, which contains the garage and basement, is actually mostly underground. "People always think it's a really big house when they first drive by it,"says the psychologist. "They're surprised when they come in and see it's quite compact."The side entrance is accessible by a long set of stone steps that runs along the edge of the house, gracefully following the slope of the ten-foot hill.
While the project was hardly completed on a small budget, the couple were selective about how they spent their money. They could have had 12-foot ceilings, but ten-footers cost less and "they feel just as high,"says the psychologist. Instead of an expensive masonry fireplace, they opted for a pre-fab one that looks built-in, an effect achieved by "bringing in the drywall as close as possible to the opening and adding a custom slate mantel," says Bamesberger.
The house is built on a slope, which gives it extra height and makes it appear bigger than it actually is. Photo Gallery:::
The Vermont slate on the fireplace hearth and mantel ("the most durable slate we could find,"says the psychologist) was a splurge, as was a top-of-the-line Wolf stove and the $400 door handles for the front closet. On the other hand, they saved money by leaving their architect out of those choices, along with many others. "We enjoyed hunting for the right materials ourselves,"says the psychologist.
In fact, they tackled all the interior design themselves, keeping in mind what they'd learned from a decorator who had worked on their city home. "She suggested using an ottoman instead of a coffee table, which we did here, too,"says the psychologist. "We learned that we can easily bring in a tray if we want to have drinks or eat; the rest of the time we can put our legs up."Other tips gleaned from the pro? Using masking tape and cardboard cutouts on the floor to determine how they would lay out their furniture; measuring the space between the couch and the dining table to ensure there was enough room to walk; and positioning recessed lights over special pieces, such as the elegant side chairs from Luminaire and the painting over the fireplace.
Most important, the couple knew exactly what look they wanted: contemporary and clean-lined. "We didn't want cozy,"says the psychologist. But it's still "country and casual,"his partner adds.
Two and a half years later, with the decorating complete and pictures hung on the walls, the couple are thrilled with the results. They spend virtually every weekend at the house, contentedly grilling burgers and salmon on the covered deck. "We love it,"says the psychologist. "It's our condo in the country,"says the lawyer.
Bamesberger is also pleased with the project. "They pushed and demanded to get something really good,"he says. "A lot of times, my clients push on the architecture and then fill the house with leftover furniture. Here, they started with a clean slate, which is very unusual. They bought all new furniture. It has really painted a whole picture."
For resource information, see Buyer's Guide.
Photography: Bob Coscarelli
Styling: Taryn Bickley