Following a migration pattern of many couples starting families, Corine Graham and Patrick Scanlan left their modern condo, with its open floor plan and sleek B&B Italia sofa, and moved into a traditional prairie-style home in an oak-leafed suburb, steeped in Frank Lloyd Wright's influence.
They knew the house could meet their needs: Comfort, functional beauty, entertaining ease and family workability. But ghosts of the past greeted them.
"The prairie vernacular felt rigid, structured, puritanical and dark," said Graham, who attended interior design school and is the daughter of a contractor. "When I think of an actual prairie, I envision golden prairie grass waving in the breeze, lots of light and large open spaces. Traditional prairie design, with its dark wood stains, deep colors and pine cone motifs feels more like the deep woods."
The couple embarked on their seven-year deforestation of sorts. As they chose a direction, they wanted to avoid "decading" the house with fleeting trends. Its black lacquer kitchen, which they alternately referred to as their Billy Idol or Beetlejuice room, betrayed its last rehab in the '80s. "It was startling when you walked in," Graham said.
"We wanted to be mindful of the era in which the house was built, while simultaneously creating a fresh perspective," said Scanlan, whose father was a building tradesman and furniture salesman. "Nothing new could scream 'new.' We never wanted to change what the house was, but we wanted to create the best 21st century version of a landmark home."
They gutted the black kitchen. Graham loved the gleaming white kitchens she saw in showrooms but knew that wouldn't translate to their honey-colored quarter-sawn oak.
"We always had to find a common ground between what we liked and what would work with the woodwork," she said. "Having beautiful natural woodwork as opposed to painted white trim like most condos, it's very hard to work with, even making the right paint choices."
They ran glass-front cupboards to the ceiling to create an apothecary effect. They integrated some trends that also had historical precedent, mixing cabinet finishes and counter surfaces (Calacatta gold marble on the island; granite counters that looked like green-and-white marble). "Back 100 years ago, they might have had a marble surface where they rolled out dough," Graham said.
They settled on Benjamin Moore's Yosemite Yellow for walls.
"I don't know if it's true in all prairie homes, but it seems green is the go-to. I was done with green," Graham said. "But I never wanted to walk around the house and notice the paint. I wanted serenity on the first floor."
There are elements of drama. Rather than converting the long, narrow sunroom to a playroom, they turned it into a space for entertaining, having a long wet bar custom-built with chairs "for a space that would be more like an open condo, that we used to have and greatly missed," Graham said.
In the mahogany-trimmed living room, which once was two sitting rooms, they replaced the limestone fireplace and dark mahogany mantel with a striking onyx surround, by Mark Menna Designs.
"We got the idea for the onyx from a restaurant where we were having a drink," Graham said.
At the opposite end of the room, they installed mahogany bookcases, tucking a television into the cabinetry during the day.
"That's a pet peeve of mine, when you walk in and the TV is in your face," Graham said. "But we had three sets of doors going into the sunroom, four windows and a fireplace.
"I knew there had to be two different vignettes in that room."
They restored some of the mahogany trim then painted the walls Benjamin Moore Sulfur Yellow for contrast.
Gone is the super long B&B Italia sofa from their city days.
"When we were having our first baby, I said, 'We have to get rid of this thing. It's going to make me physically ill to watch this get trashed,'" Graham said.
In its place is a Room & Board sofa — for now.