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True North

A spectacular lakefront lot in Wilmette becomes the site of a New England shingle-style home with a subtle nautical theme that urges casual coastal living.

SITTING PRETTY Each room in the house is situated to make the most of its lake views.

“This home was designed to look like it had evolved over decades,” explains Cook Architectural Design Studio Principal Charles Cook of the rambling three-level shingle-style house in Wilmette that he designed for a CEO and his wife, an illustrator, painter and self-taught designer. Cook was among the first people the couple called when they found the double lot. “We had such an outstanding experience working with Chuck on the addition to our prior home,” the wife says. “He is a true gentleman and a very smart, creative guy.”

Buying the property meant tearing down the existing house so the owners could create a comfortable abode with a casual sensibility akin to a year-round vacation home. “We have two boats in the harbor, and my husband was the commodore of the yacht club a few years back,” the wife and mother of four explains. “We live in the water. It changes your brain waves and mellows you."

The Wilmette Harbor is actually visible from the house, which has been designed so that each room has a view of the lake. “This piece of property is kind of an angle that wraps around a little bit, so you get a broader view of the lake,” Cook explains. “In some homes, you might have one great vista that you want to capitalize on, but here, there are many different viewpoints and areas that we wanted to make sure were enjoyed.”

Take the husband’s clubby office, which is oriented toward the mouth of the harbor. Its wall paneling and ceiling have been faux painted by David Ryan with a gray finish that is designed to resemble the weathered driftwood that washes up on the beach. Its coffered ceiling both distinguishes the space and connects it to an architectural narrative that runs throughout. “We did articulation to most of the ceilings in the house, but they are all a little different,” Cook says.

In the southeast corner of the house, there is a sunroom with a quartersawn sapele wood ceiling that was inspired by a friend’s house on Cape Cod. Envisioning a comfortable conversation area, the wife furnished the space with a pair of teak chairs that have twine arms and a plush round sofa that mirrors the shape of the room. “I wanted a casual space with a congenial feeling,” the wife explains, noting that the fabrics are a high-end indoor-outdoor material. “You can stay in your sandy swimsuits all day long and you’re not going to ruin anything.”

On the third floor, the architect created a casual, cottage feel by cladding the walls and ceiling with 6-inch-wide V-groove board. A large guest sleeping bedroom includes four built-in bunk beds with queen-size mattresses on the bottom and twin-size mattresses at the top where the peaked ceiling narrows. “Our builder, Rocco Defilippis, was really good about putting the right cabinetmakers and carpenters together so that he could realize the dream that Chuck and I came up with,” the wife says.

For safety, the top bunks were built with the same kind of railing that would be used on a ship’s bow. Even the wall hooks are cleats that would be used to tie a boat to the dock. “There is a subtle nautical theme that runs through the house,” Cook says. In the entry foyer, for example, the French blue-and-beige limestone floor from Ann Sacks includes a compass rose pointing true north. The maritime elements continue into the spacious Christopher Peacock kitchen, where a pair of copper light fixtures illuminates a 9-foot island covered in quartzite. “The lights are like jewelry, and I can accessorize around them,” the wife explains.

Also hanging above the island is a custom pot rack, which was designed for the wife’s extensive collection of Emma Bridgewater earthenware that includes well over 1500 pieces, including at least 200 place settings. “Over the years, I’ve become probably her greatest collector,” she says, noting that they became acquainted when the family lived outside of London. The collection will be put to good use during the couple’s oldest daughter’s wedding reception, which will be held on the property later this year. “The house is very welcoming and creates a setting conducive to a charming casual English-style country wedding,” the wife explains.

The owners are so happy with their new home that, in a nod to the mores of England, they have christened it by the name Marlowe. “Naming the house kind of makes it feel like a family member,” the wife explains. “We felt like we were building our grandchildren’s home, and that’s what we kept in our hearts the whole time. It was a labor of love, and we enjoyed every minute of it.”