At home in Indiana, at the lakeside retreat of Frankel + Coleman's husband-wife partners
Cindy Coleman -- Interior Design, 1/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
On a spectacular autumn day three years ago, I packed a picnic, my architect husband, Neil Frankel, and our 6-year-old daughter into the family's Porsche 911 convertible, and we all made the 50-mile trek from downtown Chicago, past the hulking steelworks of Gary, Indiana, to the southern edge of Lake Michigan. After a full day of hiking through the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's 15,000 acres of beaches, wetlands, and forests, we returned to our loft with a souvenir of sorts—a weekend house in Beverly Shores. And what had begun as a day at the beach ended as a yearlong project for our firm, Frankel + Coleman.
We'd instantly fallen in love with the property—even though the real-estate broker continually referred to it as "the house no one likes." Built in 1964 by a local architect, the 3,500-square-foot residence proudly displays almost every 1960's modernist cliché, with exactly the right amount of cantilevers, split levels, and funky detailing. But we also realized that some grand gestures were required to recapture what was clearly missing: architectural integrity.
The surrounding national park is known for its unique and delicate ecosystem. "As purchasers, we felt a strong sense of responsibility not to let the house fall apart or to disturb the fragile environment by tearing everything down and building again," my husband says. Which didn't stop him systematically deconstructing virtually the entire structure, leaving only the roof, board-and-batten siding, and foundation untouched. (It should be noted that Neil, whose epitaph will undoubtedly read Nothing in Moderation, was less concerned with the integrity of our bank account than that of the house.)
From these bare bones, Neil started afresh—with a little help from the family design team. Reconstruction involved implementing a three-part strategy. First, nothing was to be hidden. Second, maintenance was to be low. Third, since we spend the weekdays in an urban environment, the Indiana house's interior was to connect visually with nature.
"Nothing hidden" now translates into exposed mechanicals, lighting, and ceiling beams and the absence of all nonessential interior partitions. Even closets express our philosophy: Doors are a translucent ribbed plastic.
Without walls to determine boundaries, "rooms" are defined by functional requirements. In the 1,200-square-foot public space, the location of the kitchen is established by a Corian-topped island. The living area, by the fireplace, comprises two Mario Bellini sofas, a Corbusier chaise, and a Gae Aulenti cocktail table, all chosen for their connection to 1960's modernism. A wet bar is the main level's sole element to be concealed behind a sliding door.
Private spaces are either half a level above or half a level below. Upstairs is our room, the bed placed in a niche formed by closets on each side; a wall-mounted leather-covered bolster acts as a headboard. Our daughter's room is close by, along with a shared bathroom. Downstairs holds a guest room and bath, plus a drawing studio where Neil and I work beside an inspirational portrait of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
We sit at custom desks topped in beech, taking in the drama of the wooded site through our house's south-facing rear facade—completely glazed in an early test of passive solar design and retained in the renovation. As Neil puts it, "Our goal was to be an ecologically ethical neighbor." Though the "back" of the house, facing the street, offers no views, all spaces enjoy the floor-to-ceiling southern exposure, and the forest serves as a constant backdrop.
The interior's palette mirrors the landscape in winter. Cowhide, leather, and sustainable floor tile—of recycled compressed sawdust—contribute a medley of woodsy tones. The cedar ceiling and plasterboard walls are painted snowy white. Aluminum finishes glow like lake ice.
In the warmer months, we like to do our part for the environment, bringing healthy plant life to the area. Recently, after a solid weekend of digging, we took a break, drank a little wine, and sat back to enjoy the fruits of our labor. The deer, we unfortunately discovered soon afterward, had been enjoying the fruits of our labor as well. They seem to define sustainability a lot differently than we do.