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Korey Huyler | Photo: Scott McDonald at Hedrich Blessing | April 11, 2014
A tip to keep your architect on track? Buy the lot next door to his house.
You never know what you’ll encounter these days when someone knocks on your front door. It could be Girl Scouts, campaign pollsters or someone volunteering to shovel your driveway. For Thomas Roszak, the strangers knocking on the door of his glass and steel masterpiece in Northfield one Sunday morning in 2010 had but one simple question: “Who designed your home?” They loved it, and, though they didn’t yet have property to call their own, they wanted to use his architect to design their dream house.
With a chuckle, Roszak explained to the newly married couple that he was the architect, and had recently designed and built the house himself. The husband and wife came inside, spent a few hours talking to Roszak, and fell in love with his talent and vision. He was hired! The only problem? They didn’t have a piece of property upon which to build their dream scheme. Fast-forward six months, when the home next to Roszak’s came on the market; the couple immediately bought it, tore it down, and the rest is history.
During numerous trips together to the Merchandise Mart, Roszak and the couple planned every single aspect of the new home. The homeowners had a few requests: They wanted a house that could easily blend their two families (with three children from previous marriages), have separate wings for the adults and children, and have an in-law bedroom suite on the first level. The passionate foodies also wanted a kitchen that could serve as the center of the home and a huge terrace off their master suite. But really, the busy couple just wanted a peaceful oasis, a place they would feel happy coming home to each and every day.
“We wanted to create a livable, functional retreat—like a mini-mansion,” explains the husband, who works in private equity and often travels for his job. “Around here, you see huge, mega-mansions. We wanted something that was very functional, something that would let you enjoy the experience of being outside when you’re inside. When you approach the house, how do you feel when you see it? It’s a warming of the soul. To this day, when I come home from traveling, I just feel so wonderful. It’s crazy.”
The modern five-bedroom home, with 6,200 square feet of living space, is an experiment in transparency and solid form. Materials like limestone and teak are both inside and outside, and glass windows make it feel like you are connected with the outdoors at every moment. The structural steel throughout the house is even painted Benjamin Moore’s Rosemary Green because it matches the grass and trees in the springtime. This is a house that doesn’t need expensive art or high-end furniture to be spectacular (though it has both); with Ernestomeda cabinets in American walnut in the kitchen, FSC-certified walnut wood flooring in many of the rooms and cream-colored lacquer paneling in the living room, the house itself is a work of art. “The interior design is really the architecture. There’s not a separation in this home,” explains Roszak. “The idea was to have a neutral palette, so they could change out furniture if they wanted. It’s very simple.”
You enter the home through an all-glass entryway; the foyer (featuring a gorgeous painting by David Gordon, out of New York) opens up to the walnut, cream and gray living, dining, kitchen and family rooms, which all are focused on the rear garden, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows everywhere. Luckily, after the winter we all just lived through, the window panes are double-insulated glass that are thermally sealed to keep both hot and cold out of the house. “This is the modern solar house,” says Roszak. “There is a big theme of light—how the sunlight comes in the house during the day. It’s all about nature.”
And not only does the house look modern, it acts modern. Every aspect of user control is managed by a digital touch button—including lights, shades, blinds, HVAC, communication, audio, video and security. The couple loves to cook, so the kitchen includes Miele ovens and a dishwasher, a Wolf range and Sub-Zero refrigerators, and has counters made from recycled composite materials. The rest of the first floor contains the living room—simply decorated with sofas by Poliform, a rug by Kasthall and a stunning painting that was purchased during travels to Positano, Italy—along with the family room and the aforementioned in-law suite, which has its own door to the outdoors for private entry.
The stairs from the first to second floor are themselves a work of art. Made from steel and wood, they are covered in wool carpet, attached using Persian rug wall hangers installed backward to make it safe for the family dog, Teddy, and divided into three separate sections using meticulous architecture details and reveals. To prevent any envy issues, the children’s rooms are identical. The parents’ wing features a huge walk-in closet with bright orange doors (“Our morning glass of orange juice,” says the husband), a sitting room, a master bath, a master bedroom and an 800-square-foot private terrace overlooking the backyard. “The landscaping is all trees and perennials reminiscent of the Illinois prairie, with one caveat,” says Roszak. “We inserted aspens throughout to remind the husband of his native Colorado.”
Roszak’s firm, TRA, is known for its eco-friendly prowess, and many green attributes were designed into the home. Wood sunscreens and window shades block out unwanted sun in summer, but allow winter sun in. The patio doors and operable windows provide ample opportunity for natural ventilation throughout the open floor plan, and the large windows reduce lighting demands and maximize available daylight. “This house is really derivative of 1,000 conversations we’ve had,” explains Roszak of how the home combines all their styles and passions. “I love the south elevation of the house, where you see the sun shades on the living room, the serrated edges of the kid’s bedrooms and the master bedroom terrace. This was truly a collaborative effort. It was seamless.”
INTERIOR & ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN
Thomas Roszak Architecture
Painting in the master suite
Crate & Barrel
Bed in master bedroom
Painting in foyer
Cabinets in American walnut in kitchen
Various lighting fixtures and systems throughout
Rug in living room
Various lighting fixtures throughout
Various furnishings throughout
Oven and dishwasher in kitchen
Sofa in living room, various furnishings throughout
Refrigerator in kitchen
Landscape and nursery design
Window supply and installation
Range in kitchen