Helmut Jahn’s métier is grand-scale urban architecture: Merck Serono headquarters in Geneva, an airport in Bangkok, towers from Warsaw to Tokyo, and luxury condominiums in New York and Chicago, which is home base for him and his firm, Jahn. Decidedly different in scale is Seven Oaks, a landmarked 30-acre American Saddlebred horse farm in St. Charles, Illinois, that dates to the 19th century. The client, he says, is “one of the toughest I’ve ever had.” It’s his wife, Deborah.
Interior Design: What attracted you to Seven Oaks?
Helmut Jahn: That it’s like a little village, with buildings, a central space, and 200-year-old oak trees.
ID: What was the project scope?
HJ: I updated the facilities starting with the circa 1863 farmhouse. I built a guesthouse and repurposed the cow barn into a live-work studio with an exercise space in the old hayloft. Last came the 12,600-square-foot riding arena, which is cathedral-like in its simplicity.
ID: Was it tempting to go traditional?
HJ: The other buildings shared a vernacular—wood structures with gabled roofs and big sliding panel doors. But the arena was a chance to start from scratch: southern yellow pine inside, galvanized seamed aluminum outside.
ID: Your wife rides horses. Do you?
HJ: I used to once a year to prove I wouldn’t fall off. Now my hobby is sailing. It’s easier to hold onto a boat.