A Beautiful, Bright Mid-Century Modern Split Level by Dennis Blair

ngg_shortcode_0_placeholderIf there’s a common thread between the modern homes sprinkled throughout the Chicago suburbs, it might be that the original owners who commissioned them often chose lots that featured a good amount of natural beauty. Blurring the lines between the inside and outside to make homes more comfortable and a greater part of their environment is a key aspect of many modern homes.

So what a treat it is, then, to find Prairie Wind Road, just outside of the quaint village of Long Grove, and discover a small collection of modern homes, all designed by one-time Frank Lloyd Wright / Taliesin student Dennis Blair. Prairie Wind is a winding cul-de-sac street that follows the rolling hills of the neighborhood, which lies just south of the Reed-Turner Woodland Nature Center & Heron Creek Forest Preserve.

“It is a completely unique area – kind of ‘New England’, with the little town so nearby – and especially during the different seasons,” says Abigail, the owner of 3335 Prairie Wind, which has just come to market for the first time in decades. “Every season is beautiful from every window in the house.”

Blair’s design for the home is deceptive from the front: When approaching from the road, and even upon driving into the horseshoe-shaped driveway, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re pulling up to a sprawling, mid-century modern ranch. Keen observers will note the perpendicular gable peeking up above the roof line, which only hints at the split-level wing behind the main part of the house.

“The curb appeal with the white brick surrounded by beautiful trees was immediately appealing,” continues Abigail, “and the quiet and privacy without being remote – it’s only 10 minutes to Prairie View train station. We saw the potential to create a comfortable, large open floor plan without losing the charm of the mid-century style; somewhat of a California Ranch look.”

Around the perimeter of the house, the white brick is punctuated by large areas of windows and adorned with cedar details, resulting in a simple geometric design that is both attractive, and functional, as with many Dennis Blair designs.

“As a couple, my husband leaned toward a contemporary, minimalist style – and I tended toward a comfortable, inviting feeling. This house struck both chords for us,” says Abigail. “Over the years, our guests have commented on how cozy and comfortable the house feels – but I think they appreciate the clean lines and ‘less is more’ style.”

Abigail and her husband took the “less is more” style to heart in everything about the house, including the decor, which accentuates the bright, open spaces while adding color and warmth where it makes sense. The juxtaposition of the inherent scenes of nature outside with the white brick combined with warm woods and the colors of art and flowers makes for a living environment that is indeed comfortable.

“There are gorgeous outdoor views from every room,” continues Abigail, “and the interior white brick gives an ‘art gallery’ feel – which is enhanced by natural maple floors, and the 3 different levels create a unique variety of space without a tedious and more traditional long stairway to contend with. There’s also tons of hidden storage space.”

Storage isn’t the only hidden benefit in the house. Originally designed with a two car garage separated from the house by a patio, Abigail and her husband expanded the house by enclosing what was once the patio area into indoor space that is now contiguous with the rest of the main level, creating a Great Room concept that functions as family room, dining room and kitchen, all in one, large, bright, open space, complete with a large wall of glass and equally impressive skylights above, and finished off with a fireplace with custom limestone surround. The original 2-car garage was repurposed, and some additional space was gained as a result.

“We turned the original 2 car garage turned into a studio / bonus room with new cabinetry, counter tops, refrigerator, sink, epoxy painted cement floor, new windows with window treatments and full attic storage with dropdown ladder for easy access,” continues Abigail.
“We also added a 4-car heated garage with full automotive or hobby workshop area and built in air compressor,” she continues.

If it seems like as much attention was paid to “car space” as to human space, that’s for good reason: Abigail’s husband, Russ, enjoyed a long and storied career as a race car engineer. So when it came time to making room for his automotive hobbies and artwork (some of which can be seen throughout the house), he paid as much attention to the details in the garage and studio as in the house, with infrastructure elements being neatly hidden away, and always keeping the original architecture in mind.

Abigail continues by saying “The bones of the house were in excellent condition and it had been maintained lovingly over the years. The kitchen and bathrooms, as well as other finishes throughout the house, needed updating.”

And so over the years, Abigail and Russ remodeled kitchen and all of the bathrooms, as well as other details here and there that needed attention. The result is a home that has been updated without violating the core aesthetics of Blair’s adept design work.

That design includes a number of lovely modern details, such as a “cantilevered” wood slat bench near the front door under a long roof overhang that creates a beautiful covered porch with bluestone pavers, as well as a matching wood slat “sculpture wall” near the front door, on the outside of the living room.

The living room features the home’s original fireplace and has large windows and a door out to a covered bluestone patio behind the house, in the “L” created by the living room and split wing.

Even the geometry of the window arrangement and associated cedar trim detailing are thoughtful and beautifully simple in their elegance, reminding us why it’s so nice to live in a well-designed modern home.

Trying to get Abigail to pin down her favorite part of the house, though, can be challenging. “Oh, it’s impossible to say! I love every inch of this house – and use every room. I play piano in the living room – and often sit and read there, we entertain a lot in the Great Room and lounge in the downstairs media room.”

Her love for the house doesn’t stop at the walls, either. “Our neighbors are wonderful, and we work as a team (7 houses) to take care of landscaping along the street and snow removal. Several of us are great friends and trade off with Labor Day, Memorial Day and Holiday Season neighborhood get-togethers. I will miss them so much.

“It is charming being less than a mile from the town of Long Grove,” she continues. “There are several local dining establishments in town, giving this area a truly old-fashioned, neighborly atmosphere. We have acquaintances and friends from all over Long Grove as a result of these meeting places.”

And when Abigail and Russ have wanted more alone time, the area certainly has accommodated. “It’s just a 5-minute walk in the other direction to the Heron Creek Forest Preserve,” she continues. “There are beautiful walking paths and bridges where you can walk your dog or ride your bike. I have done both many, many times. It’s very quiet most of the time, especially evenings and mornings.”

UPDATE: This wonderful house sold in February, 2019.