Historic home’s classic design aesthetics are artfully updated with contemporary state-of-the-art functionality

July 28, 2020, Highwood, IL – Visitors to this year’s Lake Forest Showhouse & Gardens are experiencing a unique “back to the future” design moment in the historic Pullman estate’s reimagined kitchen and breakfast room. Under the direction of The ABL Group, the space has been transformed into the ultimate combination of timeless form and high-tech function.
“We’ve always been proponents of the philosophy that form follows function,” says George Markoutsas, vice president of The ABL Group. “Nowhere is this more essential than in the modern kitchen—it has become the home’s grand central station. So, in addition to looking beautiful, it has to function beautifully not only for the chef but also for the entire family. And today’s families have unique demands and expectations.”

The remodeling and contracting company, which includes affiliates Dovetails Custom Cabinetry and DP Home Design, faced both challenges and opportunities when designing around this philosophy in the Pullman mansion. Built in 1906, the architecture of the sprawling 23-room manor house is traditional in style, with a look of tasteful simplicity outside and refined designer details inside. Despite several interior remodels over the years, the kitchen area has remained confined to a conventional floorplan—a relatively tight, enclosed space cut off from the home’s living areas—and a far cry from today’s trending open concept. In addition, The ABL Group design team needed to work around some existing elements the homeowner wanted to retain, including a classic black-and-white checkerboard marble floor and the abundant windows bringing light into the space.

“We really wanted a high-end look that incorporated current kitchen trends like fewer upper cabinets and state-of-the-art appliances,” Markoutsas says. “But beyond that, we knew anything ultra-contemporary simply would not work aesthetically in this classic space. So, we drew on old-world style elements that are indicative of the architectural time period—such as custom inset cabinetry that looks like furniture—and then took it to the next logical level by integrating smart home automation into the sights, sounds, and activities of the kitchen with the assistance of Great Home Technologies.”

Voice activation plays a big role, controlling the lighting, window treatments, and speakers. By commanding their virtual digital assistant devices, homeowners can not only turn these systems on and off but also sync them to set the mood with preprogrammed music selections and light levels. When the cook’s hands are full or messy, the no-touch Brizo faucet can be controlled with a tap or voice-activated to deliver the exact temperature and quantity of water needed. Even the countertops were selected because they offered a technological edge.
“In most high-end kitchens today, the default for countertops is marble or quartzite,” Markoutsas says. “Though admittedly beautiful, they come with their fair share of maintenance and are not a solid surface. They are porous, and therefore less sterile—something top-of-mind for families right now. We specified an engineered, solid surface quartz by Cambria with the luxurious look of marble but no maintenance and the durability and hygienic qualities of stainless steel.”

Other 21st century touches found throughout the space include strategically placed charging stations and small-appliance garages built into the cabinetry. Technology also played an artistic role in the adjoining breakfast room. The ABL Group bucked tradition by commissioning a custom wall mural from Street Level Studio that used digital technology to reinterpret the Asian-inspired artistry of the historic hand-painted wallpaper in the home. Additional design elements contributing to the thorough modernization of this classically beautiful space included upscale appliances from GE Monogram, brushed gold hardware from Top Knobs, a custom butcherblock from Lake County Barnwood, elegant accessories from Summer Classics Home, and a dramatically dimensional backsplash from Artistic Tile.

“Our goal in designing the kitchen and breakfast room was simple,” says Markoutsas. “We want everyone who steps into the space to feel like they could live there. We created a space with functionality for the way modern families live but also with the charm, sophistication, comfort, and luxury of the past. It’s a space designed to ease the everyday and add excitement to entertaining. What more could you ask?”

The 2020 Lake Forest Showhouse & Gardens is open for public tours through August 9, with recommended safety precautions and regulations in place. Tickets may be purchased online at lakeforestshowhouse.com/event-tickets, with proceeds benefitting the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago.