Over the last 34 years, Melichar Architects has earned a reputation for designing the kind of homes and buildings that become neighborhood treasures and community landmarks. The firm’s portfolio is filled with grand residential houses in every conceivable style across the North Shore, throughout Chicago and around the coast of Lake Michigan, in addition to stunning commercial and municipal structures that run the gamut from churches and banks to railroad depots and commercial spaces.
And while the firm, headed by Lake Forest native Diana Melichar, works in a diverse array of spaces, it specializes in seamlessly integrating stunning new buildings into historic neighborhoods.
“Our goal is for people to drive down the street and not know that our buildings are new whatsoever,” says Melichar. “We want them to feel like they’ve been woven into the fabric of their communities. We’re always thinking about how a building relates to its landscape and then its location and then its neighborhood.”
Finding ways to elegantly marry modern conveniences with the natural beauty of historically significant locales has been a passion of Melichar since she was young, when she marveled at the artfully orchestrated beauty of Market Square in Lake Forest. As an undergraduate, she studied architecture at Tulane, drawing inspiration from the regal grandeur of the French Quarter. Then came a stop in New York, where she earned a master’s degree in architecture and urban design from Columbia. And finally, she came back to Chicago and then her beloved Lake Forest, where she launched Melichar Architects in 1993.
Being a female architect in a primarily male profession wasn’t always easy, but Melichar’s commitment to listening carefully to client needs and building a collaborative, collegial firm paid immediate dividends. As grand as Melichar’s creations may be on the outside, it’s often what she devises on the inside that makes them truly transcendent spaces.
“Our clients are really drawn to these historical buildings but quickly find that they were designed for a different time period,” says Melichar. “Today lifestyles are much more relaxed. Kitchens tend to be integrated with the family room. Living rooms feel different. When we work on residential projects, we listen very carefully to what our clients needs are and how they live. We find ways to preserve historic character but do so in a way where families can feel comfortable and really enjoy the space.”
Being the mother of two daughters herself, Melichar specializes in creating layouts that make family life easier by paying painstaking attention to functional kitchens, laundry rooms and mud rooms, which can often get overlooked in major projects. “These are the spaces that help families organize their lives,” she says. “You have to make a space livable and then build beauty on top of that.”
The residential beauty that Melichar has fostered is equally matched by her municipal projects. In her native Lake Forest, for example, Melichar has worked on a string of iconic buildings, including the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Deer Path Inn, and West Lake Forest Metra Station.
Although she has a hand in every project that her firm takes on, each project is a collective effort. “My team has been together for decades,” she says. “They’re all good designers, all really good at working with clients, and there’s this great synergy that occurs when we look at a project together. Everyone is familiar with everyone else’s project, so our clients get our collective insight.”
As for Melichar, she’s simply proud to call the North Shore her home, to continue the type of community building that began years ago with Howard Van Doren Shaw, which is why she ably served on the task force committee for the renovation of Ragdale and currently acts as the vice president for the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce.
“I like giving back to my community,” says Melichar. “There’s so much great architecture here. It’s important that I try to raise the bar of excellence in every way that I can.”
Melichar Architects is located at 711 N McKinley Road, No. 2, in Lake Forest, 847-295-2440, firstname.lastname@example.org.