By Anne Morrissy | Photography by Shanna Wolf
A Lake Geneva homeowner wasn’t necessarily looking for a big renovation project when she bought her current Geneva Lake home in 2014. The insurance executive and mother of two boys splits her time between Chicago and Lake Geneva, and she had just completed cosmetic updates on her house in a Lake Geneva subdivision when the lakefront house came on the market. “It really wasn’t what I had planned,” she laughs. “But I loved the area and when the house became available, I jumped on it. That piece of property is just so special.”
Her original plan was to rehab and renovate the existing house on the property, which dated to 1970. Working closely with her contractor and neighbor Tom Svanstrom, she set about making plans to update and improve the home with the goal of being able to move in a few months later, in time for the summer season. However, once Svanstrom undertook a close inspection of the home, he quickly realized it was a much bigger job than they had originally anticipated.
“When we got into the structure, we realized that the walls and the frame were not in very good shape,” the homeowner explains. After consulting with Svanstrom, she decided the best way to move forward was to tear down the existing house and rebuild on the original foundation. Suddenly, the renovation project turned into a much more daunting reconstruction project. Working with Svanstrom and the architectural firm McCormack + Etten in Lake Geneva, she was able to design a home with all the modern amenities she dreamed of on the footprint of the original home. Ultimately, the homeowner credits Svanstrom with the success of such a huge undertaking. “Not only do I think he’s an amazing craftsman, but he basically lived in my house for nine months,” she says. “He made it a special place. His personal touch is everywhere. I can’t sing his praises enough.”
Her goal in redesigning the home was to prioritize the lake view. “Anything I did, I would say, ‘Can I see the lake from there?’ I don’t care what season it is, it’s too gorgeous to hide that view,” she explains. One particular point of contention for her in the old house was the layout of the original entry and living room. “One of the things that used to bother me about the old design of the house [was that] there was this beautiful view of the lake, but there was a wall [hiding it] as you walked in the door,” she says. “It just made me crazy. I knew I wanted [the new house] to be open.”
To achieve the bright, open look she was looking for, she first opted for an entryway and great room that flowed together, and then included a two-story, curved atrium with windows on all sides. This was achieved by extending the original ceiling height. “That atrium is just one big open area, where you can see 180 degrees of stream, lagoon, lake,” she explains. “It’s a pretty special view.” Because it’s an atrium, the second level was designed to maximize the light from the atrium windows. “Everything over the kitchen and the great room is open to the atrium,” she says. “The only two rooms that are [enclosed] upstairs are the boys’ bunk room and the master bedroom. The rest of the upstairs is open.”
Another aspect of the old house that the homeowner wanted to improve upon was the kitchen. An avid entertainer from a large family, she knew that the old kitchen was too small for her needs. “I wanted a big island to help with entertaining and just to have a comfortable place for people to gather,” she explains. “I wanted a big kitchen that has all the amenities so that people were very comfortable and could make themselves at home.” She added a large sink to the island and sourced dramatic, attention-grabbing faucets at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. She opted for marble counters and a stainless-steel backsplash to complement the blue and gray color scheme of the island and the cabinets. A cement table provides extra seating and has the added benefit of being nearly indestructible.
In redesigning the home, the homeowner decided to add three additional bathrooms and a large, kid-friendly bedroom that can sleep up to 10 in the room’s built-in bunk beds. “The whole idea of the house is just comfort, to make guests comfortable,” she explains. “I wanted everyone to have their own space.” To this end, she added en suite bathrooms to each guest room. In the master bedroom, she incorporated large windows with plantation shutters and decorated with soothing neutral colors. The master bath features a large soaking tub, imposing his-and-hers vessel sinks and an intricate mosaic tile floor.
The finishes and fixtures that she selected— with input from Svanstrom, local craftsmen and interior designers in both Chicago and Lake Geneva—fall on a spectrum between classic and modern. “My decorating style is pretty eclectic,” she says. “My tastes have changed over the years. I’ve gone from a more traditional style to a little bit more of a contemporary style.” The large, gray tufted sectional sofas in the great room demonstrate this preference, and provide an ideal place to relax and watch TV or enjoy the fireplace. She describes the interior decorating of the home as a work in progress.
On the exterior of the home, she incorporated a large, multi-level patio with a built-in kitchen, fireplace, pool and pond, all of which overlook the lake and a private pier. She says the outdoor space is one of her favorite things about the lake home: “We get up here and the boys can run in either direction, and one’s on a bike or a scooter, and one’s catching frogs or fishing. They’ve got friends around and we know everybody in the neighborhood and we all know who everybody’s kids are. It’s very different from our life in Lincoln Park, and it’s a really wonderful feeling.”
Although the reconstruction of the house proved to be a bigger project than she was expecting, the homeowner says she’s thrilled with how it turned out. “My work and city life is pretty intense and this is the one place in the world I can decompress. I get on [Highway] 50 and I know I’m headed in that direction, I think I almost become a different person. I love to have friends and family and siblings and parents and nieces and nephews come up, and all of them feel the same way. They relax and enjoy the lake and enjoy the surroundings. Everyone has baggage in life, but it gives us a chance to relax. Everyone needs that. We don’t get enough of it.”
This home was featured in the Lake Geneva Summer 2017 issue.
For more photos of featured Lake Geneva homes, visit the Lake Geneva gallery page.
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400 Broad Street, Unit D
Lake Geneva, WI 53147
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