Lab Living

Some people can't help but take their work home with them. Take, for instance, Charles Page, who trades in his house every five years for a new one. For this Chicago architect and builder who has been creating dream homes in Chicago's North Shore suburbs for more than 40 years, the thrill isn't just that of reinventing himself twice a decade; it's business as usual.

January 01, 2005

Proud father of the plan, as seen through the seven-foot wide arch of the great room entrance. Arches repeat to accentuate the French vernacular, while the room presents a study of balances between volume, light and color.
The new library (above), like the last (below), could pass for a centuries-old restoration with its rich woodwork from floor to beamed ceiling. Built-in cabinetry, recessed paneling and fireplace are dressed in walnut and are a Page norm, but this home updates his last with more elaborate brackets, moldings and mantle details for "more of a carved, rather than just a paneled look," he says. Balconies define spaces on both the first and second floors with visual interest from all angles.
Details, details: In the great room (shown), wainscoting, an oversized limestone fireplace mantle and a balcony above subdue the room's volume, while warm cocoa-colored wallpaper counters the 30-foot expanse of glass to create earthy comfort. Other eclectic glass touches include leaded design in the gallery's twin French doors on the first floor and the mounted artwork that appears suspended on the glass wall of the kitchen/gathering area. "That painting blocks the sun that would be hitting the plasma TV screen in the late afternoon, and it really warms up the whole seating area... just worked in an offbeat way to add a comfortable touch to the room," says interior designer Merilee Elliott.
From its cedar-shake roof to its cut limestone arches to the snow-melting system beneath the tumbled brick pavers of its walkways, the new house (above) recalls but improves on the old (below).
The screened porch is a Page trademark feature. The new house takes indoor-outdoor living to a new extreme, however with a more substantial design including a stone wall with a fireplace to mesh indoors and out with what becomes a virtual three-season outdoor living space... in the Snow Belt! Face outward and landscape meets the eye; turn to the indoors and one can easily mistake the porch, with its more substantial design and level of detail, for a warm and rustic family room. In fact, with the wall of sliding glass doors fully opened - as they are whenever the weather permits - the porch, kitchen and family gathering area between the two acts very much like a single space.
While both homes retain distinct formal dining rooms, Page's old home (below) segregated the informal dining area in an "L" shape off the kitchen, whereas the new home (above) integrates the kitchen, an eating-gathering space and the screened porch (behind a wall of sliding glass) into a less formal but still-separable space.
The first-floor master bath retains the requisite double vanity, rich wood trimmings, marble floor and expansive glass to bring the outdoors in. The new house adds a crystal chandelier, radiant floor heat (with its own thermostat), a new hydrotherapy bath with both whirlpool and air jets from Jason. Page also has added a glass door that opens to an outdoor patio, made practical by the privacy buffer. His and hers dressing rooms are accessed through the master bath.

Every five years, Chicago architect Charles Page builds himself a new home to showcase the best of the new. His latest, in the French vernacular, blends smart-home technology with country comfort.

Some people can't help but take their work home with them. Take, for instance, Charles Page, who trades in his house every five years for a new one. For this Chicago architect and builder who has been creating dream homes in Chicago's North Shore suburbs for more than 40 years, the thrill isn't just that of reinventing himself twice a decade; it's business as usual. Page's home also presents a huge marketing opportunity, and a fine way for Page to continually reestablish himself as one of the area's preeminent custom-luxury architects/builders.

Part model, part design center and part R&D facility, Page's new home was completed May, 2004 in the suburb of Winnetka. It's his ninth such show-home, built by Page Builders. The "build" side of his design-build company is run by his two sons and daughter in nearby Northfield, Ill. This new home is brimming with updates in landscaping and technology, but more than anything else, it confronts two paradoxes: it has more volume than the last home, but also emphasizes a stronger sense of coziness. Also, it's loaded with more luxury, yet it's a less formal home.

Page evolves rather than departs from trends that were just beginning in his last home - built in 1999. The key, he says, is "details. A lot more details - that's the way my designs have been going." For this home, far from his most opulent, the details add up to between $300 and $350 in hard construction costs, excluding the considerable landscaping. And his business is thriving, despite land costs that have nearly doubled in the last five years. (See Rebuilding the 'Burbs, One Tear-down at a Time.)

The new plan, like the old, is an empty nester's paradise with a first-floor master suite. The floor-plans are similar though the prior home placed four bedrooms upstairs and one in the finished basement - more properly called a lower level - while the new one has three bedrooms upstairs, with one turned into an artist's studio, but a fuller, two-bedroom suite in the basement. Also, the new home adds a first-floor drafting room. Aside from the inevitable evolution of room preferences, Page has made significant refinements in his treatment of volume, light and transitions between indoors and out, and from room to room.

The great room, for instance, continues to evolve toward an ever-less rigid form, defined by a 30-foot expanse of glass on one wall and a loft balcony across the other, with a fireplace focal point in between. (There are five fireplaces throughout the house: in the porch, kitchen/gathering area, great room, library and lower-level recreation room.) While both homes retain distinct formal dining rooms, Page's old home segregated informal dining in an "L" shape area off the kitchen, whereas the new home's eating-gathering space is seamless and further opens into a longtime Page trademark, the screened porch.

On this exterior elevation, Page added a turret that lends a traditional look while also defining the character of the 8-foot radius dining room as well as an upstairs guest bedroom and basement gym. The sweeping curves here are echoed in doorway and window arches as well as rounded stair and wall elements, all adding up to a comfortable flow through the plan.

A Touch of Countryside

Both houses are in French provincial architectural vernacular, which he sees as the most popular influence in the area for two decades. The new home, a 9,000-square-foot Chateau style, looks very similar to the 1999 model, down to its cedar-shake roof, brick pavers that line its walkways and arched windows. But the arched windows are more pronounced in cut limestone, and underneath the new, tumbled brick walkways is a snow-melting system that uses its own hot-water re-circulation system - in the Snow Belt, radiant-heated floors aren't just for interiors anymore. Also, the 1999 model's brick exterior has given way to natural, cut stonework with added limestone trim, at some expense, but one that today's luxury buyers demand.

Until about five years ago, Page didn't build many stone exteriors, but today "that's all luxury buyers really want," he says. Homes that aren't Colonial or Georgian tend to be stone. It's a trend, he quips, that "came out of nowhere." Stone has gone from a minority to a majority of Page's exteriors and can cost $50,000 more than brick. It is consistent with the French styles Page so often builds, and may appeal to buyers for its classic, established feel and higher durability.

Similarly, luxury builders including Page report that buyers increasingly want more natural beauty with landscaping. It's no longer an adornment, but an integral part of the home, Page explains, "in a way that I've never seen before." For his new home, Page set privacy as the first landscaping priority, justifiably for its small lot, by planting 25-foot tall evergreen trees as a backdrop for a rich variety of grades, materials, and color.

The last home had a small waterfall feature that was so popular Page expanded on it this time, using LandArch Systems, based in Vernon Hills, Ill., to create a more varied gradation, a small pond and a re-circulating stream. Page can't provide a rule of thumb on how much to spend on landscaping, but this home wasn't extravagant by his clients' standards; one spent $1 million on landscaping alone to surround a Page home last year in suburb Lake Forest.

Outdoor Living in the Snow Belt?

Architects for generations have valued the transition of indoor and outdoor spaces, but in today's luxury market, indoor/outdoor transitions are becoming true fusions. For instance, in the Sun Belt, architects create indoor-outdoor living rooms. And in the Northern Midwest, screened porches, with screen panels, are a signature room for Page.

The porch Page built five years ago extended the home's living space with an outdoor, summer living room. Landscaping provided a view from inside and privacy from the outside. Not much has changed, but then again, a lot has evolved. Today's design, again with cedar paneling and Fir beams, is octagonal shaped with a raised eight-window clerestory. Below, the swoop of a curved, cut-stone wall adds interest and warmth - figuratively and literally - with a fireplace, something the last home didn't have. Delving into the details, Page searched for just the right piece of curved, distressed timber to use for the mantle. Additionally, below the hearth is storage space for logs, which can be tucked neatly away to preserve the "indoor" portion of the indoor-outdoor living equation.

The addition of a fireplace effectively turns the porch into a three-season, rather than just a summer living room.

With the wall of sliding glass doors fully opened - as they are whenever the weather permits - the porch, kitchen and family gathering area between the two acts very much like a single space.

Options Chosen, Options Tabled

Granite again graces a Page kitchen, but the particular slab chosen for this kitchen island was chosen because it has more of the veining and movement of marble. As for cabinetry, interior designer Merilee Elliott of Merilee Interiors in Chicago explains that "with dark floors and furniture, we wanted to keep the walls light; the mixture of dark and light gives more of a mid-century modern look." Page's kitchen floors are a dark, coffee-colored red oak (all floors that aren't tiled are red oak). Mix-and-match styles of benches and chairs around the gathering area table extend the country chateau feel.

Transitioning from the daily living of the kitchen/gathering and porch, Page brings more structured entertainment into the great room. Also in the great room is a large picture-frame that displays pictures - motion pictures, via one of multiple flush-mounted flat-screen plasma TVs.

Page has found that even among his empty-nest buyers, the benefits of low-maintenance living can have their limits. For instance, his clients insist on paying a $25,000 premium for a wall of true-divided-light windows with individual panes like that in the great room. "For 30 years, I used removable sashes that snapped in and out. But guess what? In every house we're doing, people want real glass. It costs more, but it's more substantial looking than one sheet of glass, and it's what people want."

Page peppered his home with entertainment systems including flat-screen plasma TVs and surround-sound systems, all discretely flush-mounted into the walls. Eventually, experts predict with little risk that flat-screen technologies - plasma is only one - will eliminate old tube TVs, leaving little need for bulky armoires that for a half-century have interfered with fireplaces and other focal points in key rooms. As he did here, Page regularly mounts flat-screen TVs flush into walls, sometimes above fireplace mantles, and uses five-speaker surround sound systems with speakers discretely flush mounted, as well.

Together with other "smart-home" features, Page spent several hundred thousand dollars on home, security and entertainment systems, some of which wasn't available when he built his last home. (See Smart Home Does the Thinking.)

Page opted not to install a separate theater-style viewing area in this home because "just about every plasma TV system is a home theater," he says. Besides, he wanted lots of extra space on for the recreation areas plus a larger, two-bedroom living suit for his family, particularly the grandchildren, who stay over on holidays and vacations. Page puts elevators in his clients homes, but not his own.

The great room required Page to strike a balance between open informality and small-scale coziness, and here he used the second-floor balcony to temper the loft of the vaulted ceiling. "People who bought homes in the 1980s with those two-story rooms found that they didn't want to be in those rooms, they felt more like a ballroom than living spaces," he says.

Interior décor helped put a bow on Page's gift to the North Shore, helping to solve the conundrum of trying to blend opulence with informality, and vaulted spaces with cozy nooks. "Each room had a very distinct personality. When you have a grand house, it's important to change the environment from room to room, depending on your mood and the light at that time of day," Elliott says of the ever-changing room colors and use of wall coverings and art.

In keeping with the European influence, fabric wall coverings are used along with mural work by detail artist Zuleyka Benitez of Evanston, Ill., whose hand-painted accents alternately compliment wall coverings like the floral-and-lattice pattern along the complex curves of the second-floor bedroom inside the round turret. Downstairs in the great room, nature-themed mural work bridges the transition into the room and painting inside the window arch reaches through the 30-foot expanse of glass. The dark tones of the walls, covered in a cocoa-colored silk, adds comfort and, says Elliott, "really makes the limestone fireplace stand out, as well as the wainscoting."

The Chicago marketplace is filled with luxury buyers in all demographics, from those in young family mode to baby boomers and older empty-nesters, who Page more closely targets with his latest home. "Baby boomers are both downsizing and up-scaling," Elliott says, adding, "They want less space, but they also want more luxury, and they want to be wired with new technology."

In this latest culmination of his decades of design, Page is not only living his own dream, but also helping luxury buyers into their own dream homes.

Style of Home: French Chateau

Location: Winnetka, Ill.

Total Square Footage: 9,000

Estimated Market Value: $4.5 million

Builder/Architect: Page Builders, Northfield, Ill.

Landscape Architect: LandArch Systems, Vernon Hills, Ill.

Interior Design: Merilee Elliott Interiors, Chicago

Home Technology: Village Audio Video, Wilmette, Ill.

Home Complete: May 2004

Home type: French Chateau

Lot Size: approximately 0.5 acre

Hard cost: $3.00 to $3.50 per square foot.

Major Products Used: EXTERIOR Stone: Argyle Cut Stone Skylights: Velux HVAC: Carrier, Honeywell KITCHEN Cabinets: Woodmade Range, Ovens: Thermador Refrigerators, Freezer: General Electric, Sub-Zero; Dual-zone Wine Grotto: Zub-Zero Dishwashers: Miele Washer/Dryer: Maytag Microwave Oven: General Electric INTERIOR Locksets & Hardware: Baldwin Windows: Kolbe & Kolbe Security System: Adamco Central Vacuum: Filtrex. BATH Cabinets: Woodmade Tubs: Whirlpool, Kohler Toilets: Kohler Sinks: Kohler, Corian Sauna: Amerec OUTDOOR Screened Porch Decking: Sundek Porch Stone: Eden Stone Co., Argyle Cut Stone Roof Ice/WaterShield: Norshield

Photography by Nathan Kirkman and Rudy Janu

Rebuilding the 'Burbs, One Tear-down at a Time

"Most everything we do is a teardown these days," says architect Charles Page of his luxury home design-build work in Chicago's upscale North Shore suburbs. "Little by little, we're rebuilding the North Shore." He advises others in affluent markets not to overlook teardowns, from single lots to larger estates that can be divided. "Teardowns make it all possible."

Both Page's new home completed in May and Page's last, a 7,000-square-foot built in 1999, were built on teardown lots in the suburb of Winnetka. His prior home was built along with two spec homes in a 10-home luxury enclave with prices ranging from $2 million to $3.5 million. The new home's market value would place construction costs at roughly $4.5 million - on the low-to-middle end of the size and price spectrum of Page's current homes, which typically sell for $3.5 to $6 million. Page wouldn't build a lesser house on his own lot, because land costs have almost doubled in the last five years. "Here, and in the exclusive areas all around the country, land is such a big portion of the cost, especially for teardown properties, that it behooves you to build a house that's compatible with that kind of land cost."

Page's own lot, just shy of a half-acre at 20,000 square-feet, carries a market value of about $1.5 million, and if it were built for a client, he would resist cutting too many corners. "With lots costing between $1 and to $2 million," he says, "it doesn't make economic sense to worry about a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of details."

Smart Home Does the Thinking

Second perhaps only to the ever-rising cost of land, high-tech features are a premium that differentiates true luxury homes. Like land, much of the cost is unseen, but appreciated by the deserving buyer.

In his latest home, which replaces the last dream home he built five years ago, architect Charles Page knew his luxury-minded clients would want the latest in "smart home" technology. In the last five years, smart-home features such as integrated lighting; HVAC control; stereo and surround sound; audio-video entertainment and camera/alarm security systems have become standard. Much of this technology, and its integrated computer networking backbone, wasn't even available five years ago, "but today," Page says, "I wouldn't build a home of this caliber without it."

The lighting alone adds $200,000 to $250,000 to the cost of a home, while the audio-video components added another $100,000 to $150,000, according to Page. Despite the cost, buyers increasingly buy into the benefits to the change in technology.

"The new technology is really a way to manage and control all of the subsystems of the house," says Vince Frederico, president of Village Audio/Video in Wilmette, Ill., who helped Page integrate lighting, HVAC, security and audio-video entertainment in one system. In addition to discretely mounted touch panels throughout the house, a Celestron touch panel - it looks like a small flat-screen computer monitor - manages all the systems with graphic and written cues. Page keeps this larger unit handy in one of his favorite spaces, the gathering area between his kitchen and screened porch.

The entire home network is controlled using a high-tech rack of computers in an unfinished utility space in the basement.

It's all very high-tech, but Frederico explains that it's very easy to use and very beneficial to buyers with assets to protect, and those who may be away from the home often. "For example," he explains. "When you're leaving the house, you hit the 'away' button, and that launches a sequence of commands to set the alarm, turn off audio and video systems that may be running through the house, set back the thermostat if you're leaving for an extended period," he continues.

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