One of the first things I usually ask a homeowner about their modern home is “What initially attracted you to the house?” For Mari, who’s lived in the house with her husband, Les, for 17 years, her answer perfectly sums up the home’s best features:
“There were actually 4 things that immediately attracted us – the amazing light, the views, the layout of the house which revealed a different area with a pleasant surprise at each turn, and lastly, the fact that the house presents modestly to the street, not advertising its size and complexity.”
Let’s start with the amazing light. Designed by Henry Newhouse II, the home features many large windows, looking out toward the ravines and, of course, toward Lake Michigan beyond that.
Newhouse, the son of architect Henry Newhouse (of Newhouse & Burnham, Inc.) designed more than two dozen homes in Highland Park alone, primarily in the 1940s – 1960s, as well as homes in other towns along the North Shore.
Drama – by virtue of large expanses of glass and natural light – seems to be one of the most consistent features of the younger Newhouse’s work, and 89 S. Deere Park Drive certainly has plenty of that. In fact, the home’s natural light changes significantly across the seasons, with Spring, Summer and Fall providing dappled shade thanks to the many mature trees on the property.
Then, of course, we come to the views. When many other properties lose some of their charm in the Winter, once all the leaves are gone, things turn even more dramatic here, as the home is afforded truly stunning and spectacular views out to Lake Michigan.
“On a clear day in February,” says Mari, “I swear you can see straight across to Michigan.”
And the views around the house aren’t just of the horizon, but through the heavily wooded lot down into the ravines, and then back up a hill that lends further to beautiful scenery just before getting to the lake. Writing about it does it no justice at all – looking out the angled Living Room windows is simply mesmerizing.
As for the layout of the house, Newhouse designed a unique footprint that takes advantage of the home’s siting, eschewing right angles in key locations in favor of wider angle changes to add visual interest. Both the Dining Room / Family room area and the far end of the Living Room feature wide angled walls of mostly glass.
Walking in through the front door for the first time typically elicits a “Wow!” from visitors, as the house does in fact surprise and delight in many areas. To your left is a wall of glass looking out to the stone patio that rests between the Master Suite and the office, and that overlooks the ravine.
Straight ahead is a beautiful, long view past the Family Room, into – and then out of – the Living Room to the woods and Lake Michigan. Walk toward that mesmerizing view, and when you turn back to look to your right, there are yet more surprises, as the Family Room flows seamlessly into the Dining Room area.
Mari’s final comment about their initial attraction to the home was that it presents modestly from the street. Indeed, the façade from S. Deere Park Drive belies the home’s 3,156 square feet, with just a small portion of the home’s footprint visible from that vantage point. But walk through the entry court, with its slate pavers underfoot and painted wooden screen in true mid-century modern style overhead, and your first glimpses of the home’s character begin to hint at what’s inside.
Referred to on the original plans as the Mr. & Mrs. H.S. Schram Jr. Residence, the home’s history is a bit vague. “From what we were told,” says Mari, “the house was a wedding gift from a father to his daughter. The young couple apparently only lived there for a few years.”
Built in 1955, the home’s original plan shows that there was to be a maid’s bedroom, with a stairway to the lower level, in the space between the kitchen and the garage. But those features didn’t exist when Mari and Les purchased the home. “We joke that maybe the father decided he didn’t like the son-in-law enough to finish the house, or maybe he and his daughter had a falling out,” adds Les, “and he decided not to finish the home per the original, complete plan.”
After the original owners left, the home was owned by a couple who lived there for several decades. Those owners eventually moved into assisted care, after which a couple by the name of Collins purchased the home and began work on remodeling it.
The home’s original plan shows that the largest bedroom was originally the larger of the lower level bedrooms, which looks northwest over a plateaued outdoor space, and then to the ravine and a path to Lake Michigan. A second bedroom in the lower level also has its own en suite.
Upstairs, where the Master Suite is currently, the bedroom layout included two bedrooms, each with their own en suite bathrooms. The Collins’ work on the house included re-doing the kitchen and combining the main level bedrooms and bathrooms into one quite sizeable Master Suite, featuring dual walk-in closets, a central walk-in shower, and separate vanity and water closet areas on each side of the bathroom.
The Master Bedroom itself now features a desk nook and a door to the stone patio mentioned earlier.
“During our time here,” says Mari, “we added the office, which was formerly a screened-in-porch, and squared off the ‘pool room’ per the original 1955 plans.” The pool room she mentions is in the space between the kitchen and garage, that was originally to house the maid’s room. “For some reason this had never been completed, and had been left simply as a covered pass-through to the garage. We also worked with the original plans to reconfigure what had been a chopped-up lower level into its present configuration.”
Additionally, Mari and Les added soundproofing to the lower level area near the mechanicals and leading to the living room. “In our first few years in the house,” says Les, “our younger son was in a band and this was where they would practice.”
Raising their kids in the house was helped by the layout of the Deere Park neighborhood. “Having lived in a variety of areas, we have found that streets that are circles or cul-de-sacs are more amenable to a sense of neighborhood and community than are traditional square or rectangular blocks on a grid pattern,” says Mari. “We also find it refreshing that there is not a “look” to the neighborhood – as in all Colonial or Victorian or any single style of homes. We find the mix of architectural styles to be refreshing and are constantly noticing details of various houses when walking in the area.”
And speaking of walking, there’s a pathway on the west/northwest side of the property that allows neighborhood residents to walk down into the ravine and continue out to Lake Michigan. “The fact that the area is so agreeable for walking is also a big plus,” continues Mari. “It’s safe and pleasant for dog walkers such as us. One can walk the path to the beach, up the path to the left of the bridge to North Deere Park, around North Deere Park and back via the path to South Deere Park, without ever running into more than local homeowner traffic.”
Once back home after a walk, it’s hard for Mari and Les to pinpoint a favorite part of the home, thanks to the amazing views and all the great spaces and what each affords. “It differs depending on time of day and the play of light in different areas of the house,” says Les. “Sunrise in the living room (with the point towards the ravine and the lake) is unparalleled as are the views from this area on clear winter days. Late afternoon in the family room is delightful and, as the weather gets colder, to enjoy this fading light with the fireplace on is a real treat. When we have people over, this is our preferred area for cocktails prior to dinner, handy for the cook to still be part of the conversation.”
“Once the sun has set, returning to the living room with the fireplace on is also a relaxing experience,” adds Mari. “We always end our dinner parties in this area – unless, depending on the crowd, we end up shooting pool!”
“The patio area is terrific for coffee and reading the paper on summer mornings as well as for BBQs with friends & family in the warm weather months,” continues Les. “During the productive hours of the day, the office next to what we use as the TV area has been the best working environment of my entire career. The light is simply wonderful and the woodland surroundings provide a bulwark against the distractions of the modern office. In purely practical terms, it has proven to be a highly productive space.”
Mari concludes by saying “For our lifestyle, bedrooms are purely functional areas; the principal rooms are the context for daily living and interacting with the built and natural world around us – this house has provided a unique and very special daily living environment.”
Which, to me, sums up perfectly why you’d want to live in a modern home in the first place: A home in a spectacular location that takes advantage of its beautiful surroundings – and makes even the owners think “Wow!” every day.
This wonderful architectural property is now available to purchase for the first time in more than 17 years. Click here to see the listing.