Village of Barrington Atrium House: The Former Personal Residence of Architect Dennis Blair

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105 W Hillside Avenue, designed by Architect Dennis Blair

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of helping my clients sell their beautiful atrium house in Barrington Hills. Set on 5 wooded acres, the house was a stunning design by Dennis Blair, winding up around a central atrium.

Blair must have really enjoyed the design concept in general, because a few years after he designed the Barrington Hills house, he designed a similar home for himself in the village of Barrington, on a smaller scale.

105 West Hillside Avenue in Barrington is an exceptional home. Located in the north village, it’s one of the few single family homes built in the last century in that area that isn’t Victorian, Colonial or some other very traditional style.

Simple, modern forms and surfaces

There’s no disguising the home’s modernist architecture. Built primarily with a concrete exterior, the home shows off intersecting, angular forms that integrate large panels of glass and numerous balconies and decks. 

The garage doors are clad in wood slats next to a set of large angular steps leading to the front door, clad in similar wood slats, with a single handrail echoing the angles found in the rest of the home.

Your first view when you enter the home

Step inside, and you’ll immediately reap the benefits of Blair’s concept for the home. “The primary concept was to have a sort of central greenhouse in the middle of the house,” says Lee Blair, one of Dennis Blair’s sons. “That gave you views of nature both inside and out.”

For Iliana, the home’s owner, it was an amazing surprise when she first saw the home.

“To be honest, we never thought in a million years that we could buy a mid-century modern house,” she says. “It was everything we ever dreamed of – the multi-line roof and vaulted ceilings, the beautiful woodwork, the huge skylight making the house bright and airy, and the 360-degree views to the outside from the common areas. The home has so much architectural character!”

Prior to this home, Dennis Blair and his family lived in a small, modern home of Blair’s design in Long Grove, on a street where Blair designed six other homes over the years. For a time in the 1970s, Blair rented a home in Lake Forest, and while there, he designed and built the house at 105 West Hillside Avenue in Barrington. By the time he moved in, his kids were grown and out of the house, and Blair lived in the house until the mid-2000s, when he moved into an assisted living facility a few years before his passing in 2015.

The home had never been updated since Blair built it, and was on the market for nearly 2 years before Iliana purchased the home in 2013. And while she immediately fell in love with the house, she knew she wanted to update it.

“The catch was that the house needed a complete remodel to bring it back to its original glory,” says Iliana. “It had stayed on the market for a long time and needed some serious work. We were able to see through that and started our 5-year renovation journey.”

Public spaces all look into the atrium

And what a journey it must have been! Virtually every aspect of the home has been re-done, and the result is a beautiful combination of Blair’s original architectural vision with modern materials and conveniences.

“We wanted to preserve as much of the original features as possible,” says Iliana. “We first tackled the kitchen. The original design was very confined and narrow, in typical mid-century galley style. You couldn’t have two people in the kitchen at the same time comfortably. Even though there was a sort of buffet opening at the dining room end, we knew we had to open it up to make it more practical.”

The kitchen has been opened up and remodeled with all new cabinets, backsplash and appliances by Sub-Zero and Miele

The result is an extremely comfortable open Kitchen / Dining Room. The Kitchen has a large Sub-Zero fridge, with the rest of the appliances being by Miele. Quartz counters top the cabinets under a backsplash of windows – the Kitchen being at the front of the house is a Dennis Blair trademark – and pantry cabinets opposite a double oven stack.

The Dining Room has a balcony on the east side of the home

The Dining Room area also features one of several balconies in the home. There’s a larger elevated deck off of the Living Room, and the bedrooms each have their own balcony as well.

As with the Barrington Hills atrium house, Blair’s person residence winds up around the “central greenhouse” a few steps at a time, resulting in what are five separate levels, but arranged so cleverly as to be easy to navigate. It’s a stunningly efficient design: The house lives much larger than its approximately 2,252 square feet.

The stairs connecting the three highest levels are quarter-turn spirals with just four steps each, and both the treads and the railings are done in rich, beautiful hardwoods that Iliana restored rather than change.

“We wanted to preserve as many of the original features as possible,” she continues. “We restored the beautiful woodwork of the stairs, skylight beams, patios and front doors and kept the original stone and tiling of the fireplaces, all of which were feature design elements for Dennis’ homes.”

A fireplace in the Living Room of Wisconsin fieldstone, a Dennis Blair trademark

The first of those fireplaces is in the Living Room, which rests between the Dining Room and the bedroom level. Spanning 25 feet across, the space is amazingly open and bright, with the large skylight above the atrium and the windows at the back of the Living Room flooding it with light. 

At one end, a large chimney of Wisconsin fieldstone frames out the fireplace, with its tiled, floating hearth, and reaches up to meet the vaulted ceiling. Sliders in this part of the room face south out to the deck overlooking the back yard. The other half of the room features a large bubble window also facing south, the circular form softening up the home’s many angular lines and offering a novel view and additional light.

A bubble window in the Living Room is another great architectural feature

Iliana dressed up this half of the room with a beautiful Fandango light fixture by Danny Fang. As you’ll note throughout the house, there’s a mix of original light fixtures, such as the globe lights in the kitchen and one of the bathrooms, classic mid-century designs like the AJ wall sconces by Louis Poulsen and newer modern designs like the Fandango fixture and others.

“Overall, our goal was to make the house feel homey and modern,” says Iliana. “We selected a quiet palette throughout and added color with rugs, plants and accessories to make it feel comfortable. We invested in timeless fixtures like the MOOI Random Light by Bertjan Pot, which mimics some of the original paper sphere lights that were in the house, and furniture to stay true to the home’s mid-century modern heritage.”

The Primary Suite has a balcony facing south, overlooking the back yard

The home’s three bedrooms are all on the top level, with the Primary Suite also facing south out to the back yard. The private en-suite bathroom here is a beautiful space, with a walk-in shower that features dimensional hex tiles and a Ronan + Erwan Bouroullec shower system and lavatory sink next to a frosted privacy window. At the bath of the bathroom space is a walk-in closet.

The 2nd full bath on this level is equally beautiful, with another walk-in shower and beautiful fixtures.

Beyond the bathroom are the 2nd and 3rd bedrooms, both of which have large walls of windows and private balconies facing north. The 3rd bedroom is a convertible – another trademark Dennis Blair feature – with an accordion wall that can be opened for a loft-style space overlooking the atrium and public spaces, or closed for privacy.

Head back down to the entryway and you can make your way through the atrium via a shallow stairway of overlapping circular aggregate concrete steps, echoing the circular form of the bubble window in the Living Room.

At the bottom of this stairway is one of Iliana’s favorite spaces. The Family Room is the area where Dennis Blair had his office set up and would receive clients.

The Family Room was used by Blair as his office, and is Iliana’s favorite space in the house

“Our favorite space is ‘The Office’,” says Iliana. “It’s the largest room in the house and the whole back wall is a series of 9 windows opening to the garden and patio, with three large glass panels on the north side of the room looking into the atrium and up toward the front door. We love the cozy fireplace at night and the bright and airy feel of the sitting and office areas we have set up. You feel completely surrounded by nature. It’s a wonderful room where the whole family can come together.”

Outside, Iliana did quite a bit of landscaping work, especially in the back yard. When she bought it, there were bushes and trees that were overgrown and fairly close to the house.

The terraced garden and stone patio are new as of 2020, and offer wonderful outdoor spaces to enjoy

“One of the last things we did was to tackle the yard and landscaping,” says Iliana. “We replaced the fence, all the retaining walls and installed a flagstone patio to create a nice sitting area below a series of terraced planters. We kept the Japanese theme throughout and replanted some beautiful maples.”

The back yard now feels much more open and bright than when she bought the house, and offers plenty of space for playing, pets and more.

Although Iliana bought Blair’s atrium house with the idea of it being her “forever home”, she’s being relocated out of state for work, which means that some lucky owner will get to purchase the home after everything has already been redone.

“This was to be our forever home,” she continues, “but unfortunately I have to leave Illinois for work. My hope is that whoever buys the house will appreciate all the work we’ve done to it. Not just the kitchen and bathrooms, but all of the ‘systems’, too. We installed a new roof, the skylight is new, there are new soffits and fascia, windows, decks and flooring throughout the house, in addition to the kitchen and bathroom updates.”

Speaking to her wish for the home, I don’t think it’ll be a problem finding somebody who appreciates the home and everything she’s done to make it even more beautiful. It’s an extremely rare opportunity for somebody who wants to be in the Village of Barrington, but who wants a modern home or a home that’s simply different than everything else around, while still offering the convenience of walking to the Metra, restaurants, Hough Street School and more.

You can see the full listing here.

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