How to Build a Dream house?
For years on her twice-a-week walks, architect Elissa Morgante would pass a rundown little shack on a wooded lot with a Jeep halfway buried in mud out front. The property sat next to a path to a beach right on Lake Michigan in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Ill. In time she worked up the courage to knock on the door, telling the elderly woman who answered that she’d buy the house in a heartbeat. The woman said she’d put Ms. Morgante’s name on the list.
Then, one day seven years ago, Ms. Morgante walked by again, only to see the house torn down, trees cleared and a lawn put in. “Someone bought my house, ” she dejectedly told her husband, Fred Wilson, also an architect.Elissa Morgante and Fred Wilson, both architects, finished building their dream house this year on Lake Michigan in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, IL. Above, the back of the home.
Bob Stefko for The Wall Street Journal
Three years later, Ms. Morgante and Mr. Wilson struck up a conversation with a couple who had come to their home as part of an architectural tour of the neighborhood. The couple, Peter and Robin Baugher, invited them over to their house, which was also on the tour. Lo and behold, they were the people who had bought Ms. Morgante’s dream property—in order to protect the views at their home next door.
The Baughers weren’t looking to sell the land next door. “We thought only a horror would result from that, ” says Mrs. Baugher, a 66-year-old artist. But they liked Ms. Morgante and Mr. Wilson so much, they suggested a meeting: Both couples should come prepared with the price they thought it was worth. Ms. Morgante and Mr. Wilson thought it was worth several million dollars, but they couldn’t afford that, so they decided to offer .5 million. At the meeting, the other couple went first: They suggested .5 million.The family room, at one end of the main floor, has traditional molding, white painted steel beams, white oak floors and a clean, open, airy aesthetic.
Bob Stefko for The Wall Street Journal
“We were like, ‘Oh my god, oh my god. This could actually happen.’ We were flipping out, ” says Ms. Morgante.
It did actually happen. After months of meetings, the future neighbors agreed on legal covenants that protect each other’s views, and last year Ms. Morgante and Mr. Wilson finished construction on a $1.3 million, five-bedroom, five-bathroom house on the ½-acre lot, which has a sweeping lawn that leads down to the lake and a private white sand beach shared by three neighbors.
The couple, who own Evanston, Ill.-based Morgante Wilson Architects, consider this their dream house. It incorporates both the traditional style preferred by Mr. Wilson, 56, and the more organic modernist style of Ms. Morgante, 58. The front of the home is formal, made of red brick and white stucco, while the back has floor-to-ceiling windows to take advantage of the water views.
It’s also the first house they designed just for themselves, not around their three children, who are now in their 20s and not living at home. They didn’t hesitate to put in lots of glass because they weren’t worried about fingerprints.The curving, sculptural stairway is made from white plaster, a look inspired by New York’s Guggenheim Museum. A sculptural light fixture extends 30 feet from the second-floor ceiling down a stairwell to the basement.
They took chances with unusual, rich, textured materials, like kitchen cabinets upholstered in woven vinyl and leather wall panels. The curving, sculptural stairway is made from white plaster, a look inspired by New York’s Guggenheim Museum. A sculptural light fixture extends 30 feet from the second-floor ceiling down a stairwell to the basement.
Ms. Morgante and Mr. Wilson met in grad school at the University of Illinois at Chicago. They were both art students who gravitated to architecture. They’ve funded their increasingly expensive homes through buying low-value houses, fixing them up and then selling them at a profit. “People always ask us how we can afford to live here since we are architects and architects don’t make any money, ” says Mr. Wilson.In the kitchen, cabinets are upholstered in woven vinyl and the white stone on the wall behind the stove is polished to allow a reflection of the lake.