I often tell clients of mine in the market to purchase a modern home that one of the biggest problems we have in the Chicago area is that most of them have, over the years, been remodeled out of character with the home’s original aesthetic. People see a new listing pop up and get all excited when they see the clean, geometric lines of the home in the first few exterior photos.
But then they see the inside and all that excitement fades away faster than a winter sunset.
Sure, the outside may have everything they’ve been dreaming about, such as long, straight lines, post and beam construction, beautiful natural materials, vast window areas, etc. But if the inside looks like any traditional house, with Colonial style cabinetry and trim throughout the house, six-panel doors on the bedrooms, an eclectic mix of light fixtures and bathroom finishes that don’t go with each other and aren’t even of the same style, well, then, they immediately start to think about how much it’ll cost to undo all of that and remodel so that it actually looks & feels like a modern home again.
Every once in a while, though, the excitement that people feel when they see the outside of a modern house is not only reinforced on the inside, but enhanced and taken to the next level. These are the homes that people dream about – even obsess about. These are the homes that compel buyers to exclaim to their agents, in very emphatic terms, “You HAVE to get us this house!”
1463 Northwoods Road is one of these.
And since we don’t know who the architect was who designed this fabulous mid-century modern home, it’s also a bit of a mystery. There are some details in the house reminiscent of some of the area’s more notable modernist architects, such as the window sill vents used in different parts of the house, similar to those used by John McPherson in some of his residences. But without any plans to pore over, there’s no way to know for sure who was responsible for the home’s design, or who the original clients were.
What we do know is that the home, which has been featured as a location in several photo & film shoots since its recent transformation, has plenty of classic MCM features: Post and beam construction, redwood walls, wood plank and beam ceilings, custom interior doors & trim, walls of glass looking out into the natural beauty outside of the home, and the use of courtyards to further blur those indoor / outdoor spaces, and offer privacy within the home.
But there is one feature of this home that’s not typical of most of the mid-century modern homes in the Chicago suburbs, and that’s its scale. While many modern homes of the ’50s and ’60s were tidy in size, 1463 Northwoods is nearly 4,700 square feet on a single level, with additional finished living areas and above-grade windows in the basement at the south end of the home.
Even considering that the vast, sunken Great Room, with its soaring ceilings and sunken wet bar is a later addition, this is still not a small home, with the spacious kitchen, a dining area, Living Room, four well-sized bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, entry foyer, gallery hallway and laundry all on the main level.
For Shivani and Marvin, the home’s current owners, they knew the house was special even before they added all the improvements.
“We weren’t specifically looking for a home like this one,” says Marvin, “But we were fans of big windows, natural light, and the idea of a ranch appealed to us.”
Shivani adds “Once we stepped into the home, the first thing I said was ‘We’ll never find one like this again!’ We had truly never seen anything like this before. Once the idea of living this way was planted in our minds, there was no turning back.”
From the street, the home doesn’t appear to be as big as it is, partly because of how far it’s set back on the lot. But there are clues. A keen eye will notice a chimney stack far back from the front of the home, revealing just a hint of the scale of the home.
But step inside, and the wonderful, mid-century character begins to reveal itself with an abundance of natural materials.
You enter into a foyer that immediately sets the tone for the rest of the house, with walls of rough hewn redwood laid horizontally to emphasize the low, long nature of the house. Underfoot you’ll find brick floors, and overhead, classic plank and beam ceilings that reveal the post and beam nature of the home.
And then, of course, there are the windows. Even in the entry foyer, they are floor to ceiling, and look out into one of the home’s courtyards, with merrimac pea gravel acting as a bed under feature trees and other plants (all of which are illuminated at night to spectacular effect).
As you move down the gallery-style hallway off the entry foyer, you’ll notice several doors hand-made from the same redwood as the walls, to help them blend in with the surrounding walls, complete with flush jambs and trim.
At the end of the hall, a clever jog allows for a beautiful reveal, as a redwood wall faces you, with a floor to ceiling courtyard window off to the side, illuminating the redwood with natural light from outside as you make your way to the Living Room, complete with its floating hearth fireplace.
It’s here that you first notice the source of the chimney stack you may have seen from outside, not from the fireplace here, but from the one at the back of the sunken Great Room at the back of the house.
Although it was a later addition (adding another 1,000 square feet or so to an already impressive floor plan), the Great Room was done to complement and enhance the home’s character. The same brick floors lead you down into the space, and an array of floor to ceiling windows offer additional views into the back yard, while solid walls on the north side offer privacy from neighboring lots.
And the skylights in the Great Room add an amazing amount of natural light, making the natural materials glow during the day. For Shivani and Marvin, this was one of the spaces that really sold them on the home.
“The Great Room is everything,” says Shivani. “It’s fun, it’s airy, it’s interesting and changes all day long depending on the time of day. Even rainy days are beautiful and snow days are magical, especially when you add a fire in the fireplace.”
Marvin adds “The way the windows and skylights allow you to capture the light and the warmth of the sun year-round has been amazing. We often feel that we’re in a vacation setting right here in our own house. The amount of nature we get to enjoy and experience has been a lovely surprise – we’re constantly seeing new and amazing birds, and it’s fun to see how the look of the backyard changes over the course of the seasons. And we never knew how beautiful winter could be!”
While they both fell in love with the home’s layout, materials, location, lot and, of course, the general aesthetic of the design, they knew that they wanted to bring this beautiful mid-20th century home into the 21st century, while keeping things in line with the modernist aesthetic.
“We knew the house needed major updating,” says Shivani. “Other than that, we wanted to keep the integrity of the layout and design, which is meant to draw your eyes out to the yard and to the nature surrounding the home. We lived here for nearly a year before making any major changes so that we could get to know the house and understand how the views work during different times of the year.”
“The entire home was modernized to today’s style of living,” adds Marvin. “We paid special attention to details like smart lighting and adding soundproofing, since most of the living occurs all on one floor. We also wanted a sophisticated home with timeless style, but that was still warm and family friendly. We made our decisions after working with an architecture firm to look at different designs and options for some of the bigger changes.”
One of these is the new kitchen. Oriented from side to side (vs. the original kitchen’s front to back orientation), the new kitchen required removing a half wall that separated the previous kitchen from a small eat-in area. In doing this, the new kitchen is more open and accessible to the rest of the living areas in keeping with current lifestyle patterns. This also allowed Shivani and Marvin to create a wonderful walk-in pantry, with a whole wall of pull-out shelves, and an all new laundry room next to it, complete with built-in cabinets, a generous counter area and a utility sink.
The new kitchen is beautifully outfitted with a full-length quartz island (including face-to-face seating for six), storage on both sides, and a back wall of cabinets and high end appliances by Wolf, Viking and Asko. Rift-cut oak was the material of choice for the cabinets, providing for a grain pattern more in line with the home’s MCM aesthetic.
Thanks to a whole wall of windows on the east side of the kitchen, the entire space benefits from natural light during the day, and offers beautiful views as well.
Under the windows in the kitchen, you may spot the window sill vents mentioned earlier. Used in several places through the home, the redwood sill panels tilt up to reveal screens, allowing airflow, probably due to the home not having had air conditioning when it was first built in the mid-1950s. It’s an interesting detail that adds to the mystery of the home’s provenance.
Off of the kitchen, you can head into the screen porch, cleverly integrated half set into and half jutting out from the rest of the house, so that you can exit out onto the terraced, wraparound deck and access the back yard as well. The screen porch continues the home’s post and beam theme, and also has access into the Primary Suite and into the courtyard pool area.
The courtyard pool – which Shivani and Marvin jokingly refer to as their “spool” (between a spa and a pool) is their way of making more entertaining use out of what had been a fairly neglected small courtyard in the middle of the home at the time they bought it. Surrounded by a paver deck area, the courtyard pool is heated (they enjoy it all year) and has a soft autocover and a swimming tether.
“I love having that in the middle of the house,” says Marvin. “It’s lit at night and just seeing the effect of the rippling water in the surrounding parts of the house is so peaceful and relaxing.”
Back inside the house, the three secondary bedrooms are all lined along the west side of the house, and are all approximately the same size and layout, with the exception of the 2nd bedroom, which has its own en suite. All of the bathrooms in the house have been beautifully remodeled by Shivani and Marvin, and all with an eye for modern details and keeping things bright and airy to match the primary living spaces.
The hall bath serving bedrooms 3 and 4 is a perfect example of this, with a large skylight flooding the space with natural light, and a clever, open “wet room” style area with an oversize freestanding tub and walk-in shower.
In the Primary Suite, Shivani and Marvin have made a beautiful sanctuary for themselves. “The bedroom space was already spectacular,” says Shivani, “with the clerestory windows at the high end of the ceiling, and views out to the back yard, which we had extensively landscaped, especially right outside our bedroom window. We also re-did the south courtyard, which we have big, beautiful windows looking into.”
Where they really improved things, though, is in the Primary En Suite bathroom. Accessed past dual walk-in closets, the Primary En Suite features another free-standing tub, and a large walk-in shower plus a private water closet. Another skylight here, along with high windows on the south side of the room allow for plenty of natural light and beautiful views of nature, making it feel very spa-like and relaxing.
To access the basement rooms, you’ll head down a wide stairway and find a large, open Rec Room with above-grade windows looking out into the south courtyard. Beyond that is a smaller bonus room that Shivani and Marvin normally use as a workout space, but currently have set up as a small home theater, with a storage and utility closet at the far end.
The home’s 4th full bathroom is also on this level, making this the perfect place for a home office, home theater, or even a completely separate Guest Suite for visiting family and friends.
Back upstairs and outside, so much more natural beauty exists. Given that the lot the home sits on is over 8/10th of an acre in size, both the front yard and back yard feel vast and open, with healthy, mature trees peppering the landscape, providing shade and adding to the interest of the views from inside and outside alike.
At the back of the lot, tucked away in a corner surrounded by trees is a cozy fire pit area, with stone pavers delineating the space from the surrounding yard.
On the north side of the home, a dog run is hidden along the outside of the Great Room, accessible from inside and from the back yard.
Shivani and Marvin also added a lovely pathway of pavers to walk through the south courtyard area back to the front yard. And all of the outdoor spaces are lit at night, looking just beautiful as day turns to night.
So what do people think when coming to the house to visit for the first time? “We hear things like ‘We love this house!’ and ‘We’ve never seen anything like it!’ and ‘This is my favorite house of all time!’, which is very flattering of course,” says Shivani. “There are always tons of questions about what it’s like to live here. For us, it really has been all about nature. Being surrounded by it and how much it improves your quality of life. Nature, and our relationship to it, is a big thing for us.”
It’s one of the reasons that Shivani and Marvin are having solar panels installed on the roof. “We know it’s not really common in this area,” says Marvin, “and some people think that our timing is strange, since we’re selling the house, but we just think it’s a good thing to do for the environment, and it makes us happy knowing that whoever buys the house is going to benefit from it too, and will be living in a beautiful home that’s even more at one with nature.”
“We wouldn’t be lying if we said we’ll miss pretty much everything about this home,” adds Shivani. She and Marvin will be heading to California for a combination of work and pleasure. “Every space that we walk into in this home has its own purpose, personality, view, or some other unique detail. There are places and spaces for everything – to enjoy coffee, to enjoy nature, to have a glass of wine, to play the piano, to make a fire. The list goes on and on. It’s hard to find this combination of glass and wood with views everywhere, but also to have the amount of privacy we have and in a location that’s so convenient to so much. We’ll miss how unique and special the home is, and our gorgeous yard and street.”
[UPDATE: This property sold on November 9th, 2020]
To see the official listing of this amazing property, follow this link. If you’re interested in arranging for a private tour and would like a complete list of the many updates and improvements that Shivani & Marvin have made to this fantastic property, have your agent contact me, or send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 312.907.4085.
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