Most people reading this will already know that one of the core tenets of modern architecture is “bring the outside in” or “blur the lines between the inside and outside”. An atrium is perhaps one of the best ways to do that, especially when incorporated into a house that also has a significant amount of glass.
So when I first arrived at 3 Wood Rock Rd, I had no idea what was waiting inside. After all, I’ve helped people buy and sell a number of homes designed by Dennis Blair, and this one, while immediately attractive to me and obviously in excellent shape, seemed a bit similar to a few others I’ve seen.
That all changed when Laura & Joe opened the front door to welcome me into their home.
The first word out of my mouth after “Hello” was “WOW!”.
Built in 1972, Blair’s design is centered around a 16′ x 16′ soaring atrium, capped by sixteen 4′ x 4′ skylights. But even incorporating a large atrium into the house wasn’t enough for Dennis Blair. In order to maximize the number of rooms from which the atrium can be enjoyed, Blair design the house to spiral up around the atrium, with each new level rising just a few steps above the previous one, making for a home with spectacular views both inside and out, and a very easy, open floor plan to boot.
“We were specifically looking for a modern house,” says Laura, referring to when they purchased the home back in 2001. “We were immediately attracted to the style,” says Joe, “and we loved the idea of the privacy offered by the wooded 5-acre lot. We were looking for that ‘Barrington Hills experience.'”
Barrington Hills has always been known as a fantastic equestrian area, thanks to the miles of riding trails and 5-acre minimum lots that typically allow for horses, but the town offers so much more than that. The 29 square miles that make up the Village of Barrington Hills are dotted with numerous ponds and lakes, are home to over 4,700 acres of Forest Preserve, and, as the name would suggest, many rolling hills.
Wood Rock Rd is a cul-de-sac that rises up one such hill, and Joe & Laura’s home sits atop that hill, at the very back, accessed by a winding driveway that bends gracefully through what amounts to a private forest comprised of hundreds of old-growth trees.
And, apparently, they had the same initial reaction to the house that I did.
“We were very impressed with the private drive, and wowed when we looked through the windows,” continues Joe. “We loved the unique layout and knew right away that this was the home for us.”
While the style of home, the atrium, and the location were just what Laura & Joe were looking for, they also knew they wanted to make some changes.
“The house was very dated,” says Laura. “Most of the finishes and floors were from the early ’70s, so we knew from the beginning that we wanted to improve the house. It was always our goal to take Mr. Blair’s beautiful design and bring it into the modern age in a way that was respectful to the home, and to do so using quality materials.”
Over the years, they improved virtually every aspect of the home inside and out, from floors to windows & doors to the roof and even the exterior. And with each part of the process, Laura & Joe took great care to do things with good materials and quality work.
“The siding, in particular, was a bit of an argument with the guy who did the work,” says Joe. “He told me how he planned to do the siding, covering up the corners with vertical boards to hide where the boards would meet on the two perpendicular walls. But I told him I wanted the corners mitered, so that the look would be really clean. We’re so happy with the way it turned out. It looks really great. Ultimately he understood what we were going for and he did an incredible job.”
On the inside, other changes required moving things around a bit.
“The original kitchen wasn’t nearly as big as it is now,” says Laura. “There was a laundry room behind the kitchen, and from there you went into the family room area, with the dining room at the back of the house where you go out to the porch. We really felt the spaces would work better together if we enlarged the kitchen and used the original family room as a dining room.”
The larger kitchen features a U-shaped layout for the primary cabinets and work surfaces, plus a large island in the middle of the “U”, which is great for both meal prep and gathering, and a real luxury for an early ’70s home considering Laura and Joe were able to expand the kitchen considerably without modifying the footprint of the house.
The Dining Room is also the first of four spaces in the home that includes a fireplace, with the others being the Living Room, the Master Bedroom and the Family Room, which is at the lowest level of the home, but still completely above grade.
Measuring in at around 3,335 square feet, the home has plenty of room for Laura & Joe and their guests when they entertain. “The house is perfect for entertaining,” says Joe. “It’s got such a great flow from space to space.” Indeed, there aren’t many walls separating the entertaining and living spaces in the home, yet the areas are well delineated by the arrangement of them around the atrium and the steps that go from one to another.
“When we have parties, everyone loves to hang out in the kitchen and dining room area,” adds Laura. “Or the screened porch – the views are incredible and access to everything is very easy.”
The screened porch is the same size as the room Laura uses as her office, and off of one side of the porch is an expansive deck that runs along the side of the home past the Dining Room and Kitchen, with stairs down to a part of the yard that is grass and includes a fire pit.
The fire pit has actually played a role in a yearly celebration that the couple have. “We’ve hosted a Cinco de Mayo event every year that we’ve been in the house,” says Joe. “The end of the party includes a tortilla toss into the fire pit from the deck. The day after the party, it’s not uncommon for us to see squirrels or deer eating the tortillas, which is a riot.”
Wildlife is something Laura & Joe are very familiar with, living in such a private, wooded area. “The peace and quiet and incredible wildlife is visible every day,” says Laura. “Keeping the environment natural without heavy landscaping is a pure joy. We have some grass, but most of the 5 acres is wooded and so naturally beautiful.”
After nearly 20 years in the home surrounded by its natural environment, Laura & Joe are moving on to the next chapter of their lives. Now that Joe is retired, they’ve decided to fulfill a long-time dream of theirs to move to the southwest, but they’ll certainly miss their Dennis Blair home in Barrington Hills.
“The peace and quiet here is just incredible and I think we’ll miss that most of all,” says Joe. “You can walk our streets and rarely see another individual or car. It’s great for exercise if you’re a jogger or if you want to get into horseback riding. It really is a special place.”
[Another modern home sold! This property closed on 5/11/2020]