A Beautifully Remodeled 1973 Contemporary in Deer Park by J. Michael DeLapp
“We weren’t specifically looking for a modern home,” says Jennifer, of the beautiful home she and her husband, Brendan, purchased in 2013. “We knew that we wanted something with ‘character’ and I had some fascination with a home with interesting angles. We were coming from a late ’90s townhome that, while roomy, lacked any type of soul or architectural point of view. We were willing to look at anything other than another cookie cutter home – Craftsman, Victorian, Tudor, Mission – but we didn’t have a singular concept of mid-century in mind.”
Be that as it may, the house Jennifer and Brendan finally found for themselves was anything but short on character.
Built in 1973, the home was designed by architect J. Michael DeLapp. Having studied architecture at the University of Ilinois, DeLapp had been working for Childs & Smith in Chicago in the late 1960’s, and decided to move to a smaller firm where he might work up to partner at some point.
He found a piece of land in Tower Lakes, where he designed & built a beautiful modernist home for himself and his wife and their new baby. And then no sooner had he orchestrated this new chapter in his life for himself and his family when the partners at the new architecture firm decided to shut it down for personal reasons.
“There I was in 1969 with a new house and a baby and no job!” says DeLapp. “So I started to get work wherever I could get it, and ended up making a career of it for 50 years. I designed projects in 20 different states and 15 foreign countries.”
While much of DeLapp’s work was commercial or civic work for companies like Baxter and Kemper and municipal work for Palatine Township, Cuba Township and others – he even designed a bunch of real estate offices for Baird & Warner – he also designed more than a dozen residential properties aside from his own.
The house at 21877 N Rainbow Road was designed for a Mr. & Mrs. Charles Skillman. Clad in cedar on the outside and adorned on the inside with redwood paneling in a number of spaces, the home is a fine example of early 1970’s modern residential architecture, representing in some fashion the last hurrah of modernism before the 1980s ushered in the era of the McMansion.
“For me,” continues Jennifer,” it was love as soon as I walked in. The home hadn’t really been appreciated in a while, but we could see through the dingy carpeting, faux leather laminate countertops and the yard, which had gotten kind of wild. The light in the house and its airiness spoke to me in particular.”
“I was convinced once I stepped out of the house onto the wraparound deck,” adds Brendan. “Once I stepped outside and started to feel that connection between the indoor and outdoor spaces, I was right there with Jennifer. The big windows everywhere that allow for bridging the outdoor and indoor spaces and the flow of the house, which is really fantastic, more than made up for the fact that we knew we’d be doing a whole-house project.”
“It really did have an immediate emotional impact for both of us,” adds Jennifer.
In order to take advantage of the pond views and the best light, DeLapp sited the house sideways on the lot. The front of the house faces south, and the back faces north, toward the pond. The house sits up high from the street, and from there, all you can really see is the angle of the garage roof – a simple shed-style roof that angles down at the front.
But make your way around the house and the intricacies of DeLapp’s design become more apparent. Walk past the oversized 3-car garage to the front entryway, where double doors greet you and step inside to see one of my favorite details, which is the “see through foyer.” Rather than walking into a wall, you walk into a bright space with a wall of windows opposite the front door so that you’re seeing the outdoors even though you’ve just stepped inside.
Here in the foyer you’ll see some of the redwood paneling I mentioned earlier, and around the corner is where you’ll first get a glimpse of the beautiful and elegant stairway, with open risers and a gentle reverse ‘S’ layout to the landings at the top and bottom.
Just past the stairway is the bright, open living room, where one side of the 2-sided gas fireplace is surrounded by a narrow frame of marble – a design detail that was modified by a previous owner (the house originally had an arched brick surround).
This part of the house features some very clever layout aspects: While there are rooms above the living room and dining room, they’re only in the middle of the house. On the two sides (east and west), the living room and dining room are open to the full height of the exposed plank and beam ceiling, adding to the overall space and airiness of the home. More redwood paneling graces the walls that reach up to the upstairs rooms, adding that much more warmth and character to the home.
Beyond the living room and dining room, which Jennifer and Brendan have furnished and decorated beautifully, are the open kitchen and family room, where we see some of the most obvious changes they made to the home.
“We didn’t have a holistic vision of what we planned to do,” says Jennifer. “It really started to come together once we renovated the kitchen and family room.”
Those spaces used to have disparate flooring, and while the kitchen was a good size, the layout wasn’t as great for the 2000s as it would’ve been in 1973.
A large island sits at the family room edge of the kitchen, with cabinets and counters surrounding it on three sides, and counter seating with even more storage underneath.
“I do a lot of cooking and baking,” says Jennifer, “and the entire kitchen – layout, surfaces and appliances – were selected for the home cook. Having this space combined and connected through the oversized island lets me stay connected with whoever is in the family room.”
The family room already had tons of character, with a beamed ceiling, a vast array of south-facing windows, a wood-burning fireplace with wall to wall integrated brick hearth and lots of built-in shelves. Outside to the north of the family room and the east of the dining room is the screened porch, offering a way to enjoy fresh air with convenient access from two different rooms and a door to the wraparound deck.
As Jennifer and Brendan have remodeled the home, it has a very limited color palette. “We eventually carried through the wall color that we decided on for the kitchen and family room to the rest of the house,” says Jennifer, “in order to create a neutral base to serve as a backdrop for the color in some of the art and furnishings we brought into the home. We also didn’t want the paint to detract from or compete with the natural beauty that you can see outside from virtually every part of the house.”
Underfoot, large-scale porcelain tiles and neutral carpet in various spaces represent another major improvement Jennifer and Brendan have made to the home, tying together various spaces with yet another limited palette of materials and colors.
And again, here we see what great flow this house has. There’s not only a “circle” between the living room and dining room, but also a circle through the kitchen, family room, dining room and entry foyer.
Between the kitchen and entry foyer is where you’ll find the powder room, some additional closets and the laundry room, with it’s large, south-facing window making it yet another bright space. Finally, a “secret” door in the entry foyer reveals a spiral staircase leading to the full basement, which Jennifer and Brendan use for storage (a wide, straight staircase in the basement leads to exterior cellar-style doors as well, making it easy to get larger items in and out of the basement).
Head up that gorgeous, redwood-clad stairway to the 2nd floor and you’ll find the two spaces that rest above the dining and living rooms. First is the loft, with a large skylight making it extra bright, and then one of Jennifer & Brendan’s favorite spaces, the “studio”, which Brendan uses as his office.
Here, floor to ceiling windows look north out toward the pond, flooding the whole volume with soft, natural light. It’s a breathtaking space and view to be certain, and clearly a wonderful and calming place to spend time. As you turn around to head back toward the bedrooms, you’ll see note a floor to ceiling exposed brick wall – again, more character to make you smile.
Those who enjoy their privacy will appreciate the “split” nature of the four bedrooms on the 2nd floor.
On the right, a Primary Suite features vaulted, plank and beam ceilings, a row of east-facing clerestory windows running the full depth of the room, a room divider separating the sleeping area from the “dressing” area and more. A door on the west wall provides access to vast attic above the garage, making it easy to store things within easy access. A large window faces north, opposite the bed area, and another window faces west in the dressing area.
Here, Jennifer and Brendan chose to leave the existing cabinetry, since it was a very efficient layout and they liked the tone of the wood. New counters and double sinks sit in between built-in cabinets opposite a pair of linen closets that flank a makeup vanity.
The en-suite bath features a comfortable walk-in shower with a back wall of beautiful Heath Ceramics tile, with a water closet to the right and a large walk-in closet to the left.
On the left side of the upstairs are three more bedrooms and the 2nd full bath, also beautifully remodeled by Jennifer and Brendan, with dimensional tile surrounding the tub and a large skylight bathing the room in natural light.
The smallest bedroom here is currently being used as an office, and has a large window facing south, making this space exceptionally bright and warm-feeling.
The final two bedrooms are essentially a mirror image of each other: Both feature clerestory windows facing west, with one having a large window to the north and the other a window facing south. Both rooms feature an alcove next to the closet and one includes a built-in writing desk and cabinetry.
“These south-facing bedrooms are amazing!” says Jennifer. “The windows allow for an incredible amount of light, and you can see right into the treetops when you’re laying in bed here.”
Outside, a multi-level deck wraps around from the living room to the dining room side where the screened porch is, and then down a couple steps to another level. Meanwhile, the perimeter of the nearly acre lot is peppered with mature trees, but the rest of the space is relatively open, allowing for a tremendous amount of flexibility in how the space can be enjoyed.
“Jennifer has put a lot of love into the back wild garden space,” says Brendan. “This whole area used to be part of a formal English-style garden that was connected to the Mossley property when it was the heart of the Mossley Hill Orchard.”
“There were traces of some of the original plants in that area when we had moved in,” adds Jennifer, “but it had been overgrown with buckthorn, wild garlic mustard, and other invasive plants. Over time, I’ve built up a native plant habitat with drought- and deer-resistant plants you would’ve found in the area pre-development. It’s always a surprise to walk out in the spring and see what new plants are popping up!”
Any time you’re on a decent sized lot and have some trees around, you’ll enjoy the company of numerous varieties of wildlife, but having the pond just north of the property has afforded even more “visits” than normal.
“Of course we have the usual suspects,” says Brendan. “Deer, coyotes, raccoons and possums. I think because of the pond, we see some less common visitors such as muskrats, bullfrogs, herons, sandhill cranes and other migratory birds. The most memorable wildlife has been an occasional sighting of mink, a fox trotting by the large picture window in the family room, and the annual migration of a 25-pound snapping turtle through the yard each spring as it moves to the pond across the road.”
I always ask people what they’ll miss most about the homes they’re selling, but I’m rarely surprised by their answers.
“Honestly, we’ll miss everything!” says Jennifer. “We LOVE this home! The home itself, the objects we’ve curated within it, the yard and the location. If I wasn’t being relocated out of state for work, we’d be looking forward to many more years in this beautiful home!”
21877 N. Rainbow Road is now listed for sale. See the official listing at this link, or click any of the images below to see them larger and browse the photo gallery.