It is a rare and special thing to walk into a space and feel an instant connection. That is exactly what happened just three years ago for two very lucky Highland Park homeowners.
“We weren’t even looking to move,” they reveal, “but a dear friend, who works in real estate, showed us the home, and it was love at first sight. We could not resist the views.”
The contemporary shingle-style beach house, perched above Lake Michigan, was a perfect match for the couple—she from New York, he from Highland Park, born and raised—and their two teenagers.
“I love to cook and bake, so I’m in the kitchen all the time. And this one is exactly what I wanted, renovated two years before we moved in by De Giulio Kitchen Design. My husband is a movie buff, so the home movie theater really sold him on the house. It had everything we need—and wanted,” she shares.
Built in 1996 by its previous owners, the house features expansive windows and decks, which offer incredible views of the water and bring plenty of natural light into the interior space. It makes the most of its lakefront setting.
To make the four levels of living space their own, the homeowners turned to Stephanie Wohlner of Stephanie Wohlner Design, based in Highland Park. “We got her involved right away,” they note.
It was their first time working with a designer, but like the quick connection they made with the property, the homeowners became fast friends with Wohlner. They were very hands-on in the process: “We went to The Merchandise Mart about a million times together. We had fun—she is delightful!”
Wohlner seconds this mention: “Our relationship was very cohesive—they were dream clients!”
Once they got started, the work done to the exterior was minimal: fresh dark gray paint for the façade and black for the front door. Inside, they removed the existing staircase—fabricated out of an industrial custom-made steel mesh—in the three-story entryway, opting for something with more classical styling.
“We were working to achieve a better flow to what was previously a very disjointed space. By removing the staircase and fireplaces and making changes to the millwork and flooring, the home now feels connected from room to room,” Wohlner explains.
Rather than removing the wood paneling that lined many of the interior walls, including foyer and dining room, they chose instead to paint it in a pale gray lacquer, creating a brighter, airier feel.
The homeowners and Wohlner alike were also keen to keep the setting in mind, selecting a color palette that focused on shades of blue and gray to bring the lake in. But the most important thing for the family was bringing in beloved pieces from their previous home. “We tried to use as much existing furniture as we could, reupholstering and redesigning elements to fit the new space.”
“In my experience, this is a great way to execute the design of a residential space, as it allows us to really infuse the home with the essence of the client while also providing a fresh, curated look,” Wohlner notes.
The homeowners share a perfect example of this recycling: “We had an antique door that did not fit anywhere—it was sitting in our garage for years. I told Stephanie, ‘I really want to do something with this door!’ So we hung it on the wall of our guest room and now it’s the headboard for the bed!”
Wohlner, who grew up in Highland Park and, with her husband, raised her own children there, is equally loyal to the North Shore when it comes to finding fabrics, furniture, and everything in between. “I use the Design Center at the Merchandise Mart for most of my sourcing. Some of my favorite showrooms there are Holly Hunt, Holland and Sherry, Jean de Merry, and David Sutherland. Outside of the Mart, I also use the shore’s Material Possessions, Bedside Manor, and Adesso quite often.”
She adds, “When collaborating with a client on the design of their home, a key priority is longevity. When a client puts their home in our hands, our goal is to bring their dreams to life. My style is really to impart soul and rhythm into spaces by translating a client’s vision through a curated lens, creating a beautiful result. Each layer that is installed should both create beauty and allow each family to uniquely interact with their space.”
For more information about Stephanie Wohlner Design, visit swohlnerdesign.com.