A Stunning Mid-Mod-Med Residence in East Winnetka by Don Erickson
“That wasn’t the first home that Don designed for our family,” says Leslie Boyer-Hurlbut. Leslie’s father, Richard “Dick” Boyer, was a photographer for the Associated Press during World War II. Upon returning home after the war, Boyer went on to have a long and very successful career as a commercial photographer, racking up hundreds of fashion. food, product and travel shoots over the years.
In addition to numerous fashion shoots for the Chicago Tribune magazine, Boyer did all of the Miller High Life photography in the early days of his post-war professional career. He also shot for Brach’s Candy, Lee jeans, and many others, including (in later years) the first catalog for Land’s End.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to represent some truly wonderful modern properties over the years, but the opportunity to list the home at 945 Old Green Bay Road has been particularly exciting for a couple of reasons. First is that I’m a very enthusiastic fan of Don Erickson’s work. I grew up about a half mile from a trio of homes he designed and built in Barrington, and it was one of those homes that first sparked my curiosity about and interest in architecture when I was a kid.
Erickson, who was a master apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright, designed homes to be grand, even if they were relatively small (at nearly 5,000 square feet, this one isn’t). Most of his designs include beautiful natural materials, massive beams, exposed posts, soaring ceilings, skylights, extensive use of cedar for the walls and ceilings, floors of aggregate concrete, brick or terra cotta tile, and of course, many large windows to bring in loads of natural light.
The second reason is that until I was able to connect with Leslie, I couldn’t find that much information on Dick Boyer or the house that Erickson designed for them at 945 Old Green Bay Rd., so having the chance to talk with her and learn more about her father and the house has been a real treat.
Leslie isn’t quite sure how her father and Don originally met, but the first house that Erickson designed for the Boyers was a couple blocks away from this one, at 925 Ravine Drive (also in Winnetka). Featured on the cover of Chicago Life magazine in December of 1960, that home was, sadly, demolished in later years and must have been incorporated into a neighbor’s yard, as the address no longer exists.
As the Boyer’s kids were getting older, Dick and his wife, MaryEllen, felt like they needed more space, and hired Don to design a new house for them on a nearly 2/3 acre lot on Old Green Bay Road, just a couple blocks from Lake Michigan and from the first house Erickson had designed for them.
The lot is a long triangle, so Erickson designed a home that took advantage of the lot’s shape by creating a home in an open “L” configuration with two distinct wings: The “common areas” are in the wing that goes north-south parallel to Old Green Bay Rd. The bedrooms are in the “private” wing that runs east-west at the north end of the house.
Because of the orientation of the home to Old Green Bay Rd., the house actually appears deceptively small from the street. An architect who once visited the house socially described it as a “home that hides its secrets.” It’s a fun – and accurate – description, as there is so much more to this amazing property than meets the eye from the street.
The house was built in 1966, and the Boyers lived there until 1972, when they built a house in Naples, Florida. (Boyer maintained his studio and a condo in the city of Chicago and traveled back and forth).
During their time in Winnetka, however, Dick and his family loved the area where they lived. He was well-loved (and respected) locally, was a member of Bob-O-Link Golf Club, and enjoyed driving his Jaguar and Corvette up and down the North Shore neighborhoods.
While Frank Lloyd Wright’s “organic modern” teachings can be seen in most of Don Erickson’s work, the house at 945 Old Green Bay Rd is unique in that it’s one of the only (perhaps THE only) home that Erickson designed in what we now refer to as “mid-mod-med” style, which is mid-century modern with Mediterranean influences.
These influences can be seen in numerous details, such as the supports under the triangular bay windows, the style of many of the light fixtures and door hardware, and more. It’s a style that enjoyed a fairly brief existence in the mid- to late-1960s.
Follow the winding walkway from the driveway around to the covered front porch, and you start to see that this is no ordinary ranch home. Under foot, the porch greets you with fan-patterned brick work, almost to suggest a stroll down twisting, narrow streets in a quaint European village.
Even here you can see the scale of the posts and beams that expose the home’s structure, softened by the lighter stained wood ceiling overhead.
Enter through the massive carved, wooden door and the stroll down that little village street continues inside, where a clever bit of architecture surrounding the arrangement of the front door might have you scratching your head as to whether or not you’re actually inside or still outside in some fashion.
Notably, a large, two-sided fireplace is one of the first things you encounter inside, with an understated, bumped out brick mantel floating above the elongated, curved hearth. The mantel’s brick is mortared flush with the bricks themselves to set it apart from the deep-raked brick making up the massive wall that the fireplace is set into.
Immediately, you’ll recognize the “grand scale” of Erickson’s architecture that I mentioned earlier, as you’ll note the massive redwood beams supporting the roof, and the posts that in turn hold them up. Continue forward and the first room you come to is the Den, where a wet bar allows you to fix a drink for yourself or guests.
This is the perfect opportunity to point out the other thing about this home that, aside from the architecture itself, is truly remarkable: Although the home was built 56 years ago, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was just built recently.
Not only is most of the house still original to when it was first built, but the condition of everything appears almost like new. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The materials look pristine, almost as if the house has barely been lived in since it was built, even though my clients are the 3rd owners and raised their kids in the house.
The home’s second occupants only owned the house from 1972 to 1979. That’s when my clients, Anne & Mead, purchased the house.
“We lived in a modern house in New Jersey before we moved back to the Chicago area,” says Mead. They had lived in Wilmette, in a more traditional house, prior to relocating to New Jersey. Then, a job as Executive VP of Quaker Oats brought him back to the Chicago area.
“Although we weren’t specifically looking for a modern home,” continues Mead, “we did like the idea of a home that was different and special in some way, and we specifically wanted to be in the New Trier school district.”
“Once we walked into the home,” says Mead, “about the only thing we both thought and said was ‘Wow!’ You can’t help but be blown away when you see the openness and big beams everywhere.”
Unlike the front of the house, which only reveals a “simple” pitched roofline, once you’re inside, you’ll notice that the back half of the roof in the common areas is curved in a chalet-style. It’s an amazing design choice that both adds character and drama to the spaces, as well as offering an elegant solution to the fact that the peak of the roof isn’t centered over the spaces it covers (the chalet side is shorter).
That peak, which is more than 20 feet high, sits over the transition between the massive living room and the sunken Florida room. It’s an incredible space with multiple walls of exposed brick, vast windows, the other side of the 2-sided fireplaced, incredible geometry in the posts and beams, and numerous other beautiful details.
My favorite may be the way that Erickson took the fan pattern in the brick and realized it in three dimensions here, creating fan-shaped steps down into the sunken Florida room.
“There used to be a fountain there, in the planter area at the bottom of those steps,” says Leslie. The fountain was no longer there by the time that Mead and his family moved into the house, but the Florida room, or the “loggia” as Anne & Mead refer to it, has definitely been one of their favorite rooms.
“It’s so special and so different with the scale of the space,” says Mead. “The roofline, skylights, the beams…all of it really is just so special.”
I suppose it’s easy to be jaded by photos that accompany real estate listings in particular, especially given the necessity of using wide angle lenses to capture what can sometimes be relatively cozy spaces. But this is definitely one of those instances where the spaces are even more amazing in person than they are in photos.
Along the far side of that grand entry foyer, past the den you first encountered upon entering the home, you’ll find the dining room, and then the kitchen. Huge by 1960’s standards – and even by most current standards – these two rooms offer ample space for cooking, gathering, dining and more.
Here you’ll notice a series of folding doors in several locations. This is a detail that Don Erickson and his business partner, Dennis Stevens, incorporated into numerous homes, allowing owners to open or close spaces as needed for privacy, to reveal a space, or to keep things open depending on the situation at hand.
The kitchen has its own fireplace, and it’s the only part of the house that has exposed brick that’s not Chicago Common brick. I suspect that this is because of the original purpose for this fireplace.
“We had a grill in the kitchen fireplace,” says Leslie. “We would grill in the kitchen all the time.” Having the brick surrounding the kitchen fireplace be of a more rustic type of brick sets it apart from the fireplace in the living room / foyer, and sets a much different tone for the space.
The kitchen still features the original Mutschler cabinets that were installed when the house was built.
“Because Dad was a photographer,” adds Leslie, “he would barter for things when he could. I think he got all of the cabinets in the house in exchange for doing photography work for the cabinet company. Same with a lot of the other materials and products in the house.”
Those cabinets are set under European tile counters, and feature a custom corner stainless steel dual sink setup unlike anything I’ve seen before. Large sliders face out the back of the kitchen to the terraced stone patio in the back yard.
“Over the years we’ve spent a tremendous amount of time in the kitchen,” says Mead. “It’s such a big, open area. There’s room for the table, so the kids could do their homework there when they were younger, and we had all our family meals here, too. It’s open to the patio and has lots of great light.”
Beyond the kitchen is the laundry room – one of the only spaces where Anne & Mead made any significant changes to the home in their 40+ years there. Originally, this back hallway area was a bit more closed off, but Anne & Mead re-purposed the space with a new laundry room, adding a side door in the process. The original powder room remains here, complete with double doors and many other original details. Large closets in this area add to the home’s excellent storage, and a doors here lead to the patio outside as well as into the home’s 3-car garage.
The garage shares the same architecture as the house itself, so planked and beamed vaulted ceilings can be found in here just like in the rest of the house. Having a three car garage in the 1960s was quite a luxury, and Erickson made sure that even the garage was beautiful to look at.
Heading back into the living room / Florida room area, I recommend stopping to take note of a few interesting and important details about the home.
First is that there’s almost no drywall in the house. Again, the use of natural materials was very important to Erickson. And, as it turns out, to Anne and Mead as well.
“Clearly one of the things we’ve loved about the house is that most of the walls in the home are wood, brick or glass,” says Mead. “The natural materials make such a big difference. There’s very little drywall in the house. It’s all just natural.”
The second detail is that all of the ceilings are vaulted into that wonderful roofline. There are no “artificially” lower ceilings at all on the main level (even the bedroom closets have vaulted ceilings).
And third is that all of the rooms on this level have a row of clerestory windows between the top of the wall and the huge redwood beams. Not only does this allow more soft, natural light to enter the home, but it helps to make the massive roof appear as if it’s floating above the house, keeping everything light and airy feeling.
The bedroom wing will take you down a few steps from the main level, setting it apart physically from the common / entertaining areas. On the left is a large walk-in closet that has been repurposed as a small sitting room. Next are the secondary bedrooms – both of a wonderful size considering neither is the primary bedroom. Both with walk-in closets. And both with large, south-facing windows which, under the generous roof overhangs, keep the rooms comfortable while allowing for wonderful natural light.
Across from these two bedrooms is the shared guest bathroom, with its gorgeous smalti mosaic tile and sliders into one of the most striking areas in (or out of) the house: The north courtyard.
Delineated and encapsulated by a stunning, curved brick wall, the north courtyard serves both to afford loads of natural light and views of nature on the north side of house, while also allowing for complete privacy. Both the guest and primary bathrooms have sliders into the courtyard, as does the primary bedroom suite, which faces west down the length of the courtyard. It’s a truly beautiful component of an already amazing home.
The primary bedroom sits at the end of the bedroom hallway and, again, there’s a clever bit of design worked into this hallway, as a glass panel above a beam closes off the primary bedroom suite from the rest of the hallway, while reflecting the hanging light fixtures, making it appear as if there are more of them in the hallway than there actually are.
High up on the back wall of the bedroom, an elongated hexagon-shaped window is yet another special feature of this space.
A large walk-in closet sits opposite the entrance to the en-suite bathroom, where a paneled door leads to a hidden sauna (which Anne & Mead have never used).
All told, the main level of the home is just under 5,000 square feet, and if that wasn’t enough, there are additional bedrooms and other spaces in the basement, which was originally unfinished when the Boyers lived there.
“We built out the basement right after we bought the home,” says Mead. “We hadn’t yet learned about or met Don Erickson, so we had another architect come in to design the build out.”
What they did was quite ingenious, first adding a sunken terrace garden on the front of the house, so that the two bedrooms that they added in the basement would have large windows looking into a beautiful space that also adds natural light.
In addition to the two bedrooms, there’s a full bathroom downstairs, along with a game room, workout area, and an unfinished room for storage and utilities. Beyond that, an access panel leads to the crawl space under the bedroom wing, offering an easy way for tradespeople to access those areas should the need arise to modify plumbing, electric, etc.
Outside, the sunken garden on the front of the house is just one of a number of a beautiful spaces, which also includes the north courtyard. Behind the kitchen and Florida room, a multi-level stone patio is a delightful place to spend time on nice days. There’s even an outdoor fireplace in this area, and additional stone pathways that lead along the bedroom wing and around to the far side of the garage, too.
From the back yard, you can truly appreciate the scale of the house from the outside, with the multiple rooflines, skylights, beam outriggers and Chicago Common brick all working in harmony to present what is a truly astounding home.
Over the years, Anne and Mead have enjoyed living in their house not only day to day, but also on a number of special occasions, thanks to the open nature of the home’s fantastic floor plan, and how the spaces flow into each other and outside.
“We’ve done four chamber music concerts with a string quartet playing for around 100 people,” says Mead. “They started on Thanksgivings as holiday events, bringing people together in the spirit of thankfulness. Anne and the quartet’s violinist would select the music for the events.”
Even more special, though, were some important family events that they were able to host at home.
“We hosted our younger son’s wedding here with about 125 people in 2017,” adds Mead. “We received people in the front yard, the ceremony was outside, and then on the patio for cocktails and dinner under a tent on the driveway. We spent the rest of the evening dancing in the living room and in the loggia.”
And again, one of the most amazing things about this home is how original it is to Erickson’s original architectural vision. Aside from the re-done laundry room and the basement that they built out, virtually everything else still looks the way it did in 1966 when the house was built. Of course the roof has been redone recently and appliances are newer than original, but visually, the vast majority of the main level is both original and pristine.
After 42 years, and with their kids grown and out of the house for quite some time, Anne & Mead started planning to move to a smaller home, so this incredible property is available for the first time since 1979. Served by the New Trier high school district, just a couple blocks from Lake Michigan, and right around the corner from some of Winnetka’s many shops & restaurants (and the Metra), 945 Old Green Bay Road offers an incredible, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those seeking a truly special architectural home in an incredibly desirable location.
Click here to see the official listing, and see all of the images in the gallery below.
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