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Elements of Inspiration

Nature becomes art in this lakeside retreat—the design debut of interior architect and decorator Claren Pappo.

Designer Claren Pappo poses in the home’s front foyer.

Standing in the spacious entrance of this stunning limestone home is almost sensory overload; a brilliant chandelier sparkles in a warm bath of sunlight as the grandiose dining area to the left and the dark, cozy den to the right vie for attention. But straight ahead lies an incredible view of Lake Michigan through the wall of windows, and everything else immediately plays second fiddle.

Not surprisingly, the fenestrated lakeside facade is the pride and joy of both the homeowners and its interior architect and designer, Claren Pappo of Claren Pappo Design, who made that eastern exposure her top priority. Having worked with her on kitchen and bathroom projects in the past (her specialties), the homeowners had no hesitation when it came to who would oversee the project when they finally found their dream home location in Highland Park—even when it became a new build from the ground up instead of a simple renovation. “I have always trusted Claren’s taste; she has so much integrity in her choices and is so decisive,” says the homeowner. “I tend to be more traditional, but she steers me toward a more modern side.”

Both parties agreed that the location lent itself to a more contemporary, open design, and Pappo’s mandate was to make the most of the natural surroundings every step of the way. The homeowners had looked at several homes in the area prior to purchasing and were surprised how few of them even had a view of the lake. “We lived in a very traditional home while we were raising our family,” says the wife, “but now that the kids are grown, I was ready for an update and wanted a feeling of openness that’s all about the view.”

The pie-shaped lot made this a difficult task, so Pappo spent a lot of time on the property figuring out how to orient the house. “When I design, I try to focus on how the space feels,” she says. “It’s how I begin each project; whether the client wants the space to feel heavy and masculine, or in this case, airy, peaceful and calm.” To do this, she incorporated a view of the lake into nearly every room and then made sure the furnishings referenced the water without being too “beach-y.” High ceilings (12 feet on the main floor and 10 upstairs and in the basement) achieve the volume while large, custom windows with black mullions frame the views and establish a modern vibe. Hardwood floors with energy-efficient radiant heating add warmth both visually and functionally, as do direct-vent fireplaces. Pappo’s degree is in sustainable interior architecture, so the design and build of the house is as environmentally responsible as possible. In fact, due to its waterfront location, it is only a few technicalities short of being certified.

When it came to the floor plan, Pappo continued the theme of spaciousness by avoiding hallways. Instead, she incorporated seating areas or mini living rooms wherever there was a landing. “Little hallways create the feeling of intruding on someone’s privacy,” she says. Plus, her client wanted a warm, welcoming space that would be ideal for entertaining overnight guests.

Because they had time during the construction phase, Pappo went on several shopping trips with the homeowner, and they gradually bought all of the furnishings together so that “it never felt like there was a tight deadline,” the designer says. More importantly, during this time she got to know her client’s taste, so they had a basis of trust and understanding with each other. The homeowner even ended up giving Pappo carte blanche on some of the decor elements, including the lighting. She chose a variety of fixtures that work well together while carefully considering the spaces that had an adjacency—like the master bathroom to master bedroom, and hallway to stairwell—so there is a sculptural flow.

As for the bathrooms and kitchen, everything was left entirely in Pappo’s hands once again. “When you start from scratch, you have the luxury to think about what you really need,” the designer explains. In this case, it was creative storage, as the kitchen loses two walls of cabinet space to windows. Working with Wood-Mode, her solution was an oversize quartzite island (she is strongly in opposition to marble in kitchens) with tons of cupboard space underneath and a custom armoire, designed with a horizontal-hinged door for the homeowner’s husband—which can be closed to conceal any paper or coffee cup messes. Other distinguished details: Slotted dish drawers adjacent to the dishwasher, a pullout mini pantry that keeps spices tidy and accessible by the stove, and corner cupboards with organizers on tracks. This is one of the homeowner’s favorite features, that the house is “easy to live in, easy to take care of and easy to make look clean because there is storage right where you need it.”

A full tour proves this is also an abode abounding with beautiful bathrooms—one place Pappo does love to use marble. She made mosaics with varying patterns and mixed it with ceramic and glass tiles in white and watery shades to maintain continuity in the home’s storage areas as well; she may be known as the “laundry and mudroom” guru soon. Never intended as attention-getters, her choice of onyx hexagon travertine tile in the upstairs laundry room and neutral, vein-cut travertine in the main floor mudroom are practical yet luxurious. In both spaces, there’s a place for everything, and everything has its place. Plus, there is a shower by the back door with an infinity drain that’s perfect for washing sand off after a beach visit.

All of these minute programmatic elements make it clear Pappo has figured out how to balance the functional with the ornamental. But on a macro scale, she nailed it as well. “My favorite thing is the view, and how it’s incorporated into the entire house,” says the homeowner. “The transitions from one open space to the other are so seamless.” Pappo’s first project is a wrap, and we can’t wait to see her next impressive portfolio additions!


Single-Family Home

Lake County

Claren Pappo Design


George Lowell
Wall art in den and upstairs sitting area

Windows throughout home

Urban Archaeology
Backsplash tile in kitchen

Benjamin Moore
Hale Navy paint color in den

Visual Comfort
Thomas O’Brien pendant lights in kitchen; Suzanne Kasler pendant lights in den

Cabinetry in kitchen

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
Sofa in front of fireplace in family room

Circa Lighting
E.F. Chapman chandelier in dining room

Four Hands
Leather sofas in family room; velvet chairs in family room in front of fireplace; tufted chairs in upstairs seating area; leather chairs in den

Tri-Star Cabinetry
Vanities in master bathroom

Designed Stairs, Inc.
Custom-designed main staircase

Freestanding vintage tub in master bathroom

Bamboo wingback chairs in entry

Bookcases in family room, painted gold