Ebba and Ian knew they wanted waterfront property and a good location. So in October of ’97 when they saw the house at 205 Frances Lane in Barrington for sale, it was already appealing to them. Just a few minutes from downtown Barrington and the train station, plus a pretty straight shot down Lake-Cook Rd. to Route 53, the “good location” aspect was satisfied. And then there’s the waterfront.
Situated on almost an acre and a half, the home is ideally positioned on Deer Lake: It’s the furthest home from both Ela Rd. and Hillside Rd. On the west side, there’s a small cove off the lake reaching toward Frances Ln, and on the east side, the property line is heavily treed. So while the lot has hundreds of feet of lakefront, it also has quite a bit of privacy.
Right from the beginning, though, they knew they wanted to remodel the home. “The property and the location were just what we were looking for,” says Ebba, “but the house was dated and too dark.” The couple sought advice from their friend, renowned Architect Don Erickson.
Ian said “We thought our remodel would be too small for him, and we didn’t want to impose, so we just asked him for a referral. But he wouldn’t hear of involving anyone else!”
Don Erickson had worked as an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright before he established his own practice and developed his own trademark style as a residential architect. Ebba recounts, “Don’s first impression was that the house had been built without regard to the beautiful property. As he put it, ‘This home does not appreciate the view’.”
In terms of what Don could do with what was already there, the owners had only two specific requests: “Our only requirement was to open up the main floor and give us lots of light,” says Ian. Erickson’s plan to fix the original home’s oversight and give his clients what they’d asked for included opening up the main floor, which provided a lot of light. Strategic use of mirrors connected the interior and the outdoors. Recalls Ian, “It was a pleasure to work with Don. He had such enthusiasm and delight for the project. He would stop by frequently to meet, and the meetings inevitably turned into social events. The opposite was true as well. We’d have Don over for dinner and, under his guidance, we’d wind up taking on aspects of the project ourselves.”
“For example,” adds Ebba, “Don brought his tile saw over and taught us how to use it. I arranged the kitchen tiles, Ian cut them, and we both set them in place. I also oiled all of the oak throughout the house and did some of the painting.”
Investing themselves in the process took time: It was two and a half years before the transformation was complete. But by then the house had gone from dated and dark to bright, open and full of architectural details that not only compliment the home’s siting, they also allow the natural light to play off the surfaces and materials that Don specifically chose and created.
The main floor now features a large, open kitchen / dining room / living room space. The kitchen’s vaulted ceiling seems to extend through the gable skylights which admit soft northern light, and mirrors on the sides seem to multiply the skylights. The kitchen is a fantastic space for meal preparation or just socializing.
Throughout the remodel, Erickson’s special knack for taking advantage of natural light is on display. In the two west-end bedrooms, he added triangular bump-outs to provide multi-directional light, and also better views.
The Master Suite was reconfigured to give Ebba and Ian plenty of space: The walk-in closet is as large as a small bedroom, and the master bath has a large double vanity with full-width medicine cabinet, a separate makeup table with dressing room lights, a large tub, and a separate water closet with a shower.
It’s not just the reconfiguration of the space that makes Erickson’s remodel so successful, but also the thoughtful and careful attention to specific elements and materials.
“We love the creative details,” says Ian, “like the use of wraparound oak strips throughout. They make the ceilings seem higher and help the spaces flow together.”
“Oak strips also flow around the mantel, making it unique” Ebba adds, “and the mirrors bring nature into the house. At night the mirrors also serve to multiply candlelight, and the art glass pantry doors show to best advantage because they are backlit.”
In fact, the pantry doors are similar to the cabinet doors Don created for his own home in North Barrington, considered by some (including me) to be a masterpiece of organic modern architecture. Other elements in the house will also be familiar to anybody who’s had the privilege of seeing Erickson’s own home, such as the geometry he used to shape the breakfast counter in Ebba and Ian’s kitchen.
The main floor was only part of the project “We turned to the lower level after the upper level was completed,” says Ebba. And that lower level, which offers walk-out access to the expansive yard and Deer Lake beyond, features a spacious family room with a romantic stone fireplace, set at the same angle as the fireplace on the main floor.
Rounding out the finished spaces of the lower level are a generously-proportioned 4th bedroom and a 3rd full bathroom which has an ample glass shower with multiple shower heads. The home’s two levels are tied together via an open staircase.
So where do Ebba and Ian like to spend most of their time? “The kitchen-living-dining room is our favorite space,” says Ebba. Ian agrees. “We view wildlife throughout the seasons: Swans on occasion, a variety of ducks, wading birds, and of course geese. We hear owls and bullfrogs at night. We feel like we’re part of the outside.” Ebba adds, “We also love the deck from May to October, for outdoor dining, a glass of wine in the evening, or just watching the stars.”
“Our friends love visiting,” she continues. “Those who have spent the night say they sleep more peacefully, probably because of the water and nature. And Don loved to visit, too.”
Don Erickson practiced architecture from 1951 until his death in 2006. He designed many fantastic modern homes and commercial buildings in the Chicago area, in other parts of the U.S. and even as far away as Jamaica. His work ranged from remodels, like this one, to modest homes to residences that are over 10,000 square feet.
As was the case with this remodel, Don’s work was always tailored to his clients’ particular needs and budget, and each project provided a showcase for his particular brand of style and creativity.
205 Frances Lane is now available for sale, and those seeking a waterfront home with bright, open spaces and who desire a home that’s not “cookie cutter” will be particularly impressed and pleased by this home’s easy flow, and the relaxing lifestyle afforded by its location and the surrounding natural beauty and its convenient location.