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All in the Family
By Zlata Kozul Naumovski | Photo: by Mike Schwartz | July 6, 2017
Designer Elizabeth Krueger keeps things casual, comfortable and easy to clean for her brother, founder of Mavrek Development, and his family in their new home.
Designer Elizabeth Krueger has worked with her brother Robert dozens of times over his seven years as founder of Mavrek Development, designing several of the luxury single-family homes in Chicago he has built. In fact, they once shared office space when she established her eponymous design firm in 2012. So in many ways, it was business as usual when he asked her to design the 5,700-square-foot home he built in Lakeview for his family, which includes wife Katie and two children, with a third on the way.
“You still have to treat it like it’s a client’s situation,” Elizabeth says of the brother-sister work relationship. “It’s still someone else’s money and someone else’s home. They have to be comfortable.”
But in other ways, it was more relaxed and less structured. There were no formal presentation boards, and they would improvise design on-site. “There was a shorthand because we have been doing this so long. We’d go on-site and he’d pick up scrap wood pieces to show me something, and I’d understand,” she explains.
Robert, or Bobby, as Elizabeth affectionately refers to her older brother, agrees. “We have worked on a lot of projects together. She always does a great job of keeping it professional,” he says. “This time was casual. She did furniture layout and provided inspiration images as if I were a client off the street, but we had an open dialogue—‘I like this, not that.’ We started a Pinterest and Houzz page and used those tools to communicate,” says Robert.
But the pressure was on for both, knowing that out-of-town family, including their builder father, would be frequent guests. Given their vast experience in design, the expectations would be high. “I’ve seen so many things over the years, I feel like I have too much information,” Robert says, but “I appreciate going through the process. I’m a better builder and developer because of it.”
To take advantage of the oversized corner lot, the developer located the main door on the side of the house, splitting the floor plan with formal rooms to one side of the staircase and rooms used on a daily basis to the other. “Everything was laid out from there,” he says.
Keeping family and entertaining in mind, Elizabeth’s mantra for the five-bedroom home was casual, comfortable and cleanable. “Nothing was too precious,” she explains. “We wanted it to be smart and good-looking.” Chairs by RH in the dining room are slipcovered in linen, and the family room sofa is upholstered in Perennials indoor-outdoor fabric. Hardwood floors are light, since they are an easier option to maintain than their popular dark counterpart. She contrasted this design element with deep gray kitchen cabinets in Iron Ore by Sherwin-Williams. Doors and windows are painted the same shade for a slightly industrial vibe. The designer chose wood over stone for the fireplace surrounds because it is less formal, and Robert kept architectural profiles minimal and stair railings simple—there are no fancy flourishes here. And forget about marble—the pair wisely chose quartzite for the kitchen countertop, which has become 1½ year old Mac’s favorite stomping ground.
As a builder and developer of other properties, Robert makes quick, confident decisions regarding how to do things, but when it came to his own home, he had a harder time. “Building for yourself was an eye-opening experience and gave me different perspective on what clients go through,” he admits.
However, the decision to work with his sister came easy. But for anyone else considering working with relatives, Robert advises to always keep a level of professionalism, even though “that can get lost when working with family.”
As for this project, his sister would have been hired even if she wasn’t family. “We’ve always been a big fan of her aesthetic,” he says, and “it was a great experience.”