LAKE FOREST — Buyers, brokers and city administrators are looking for ways to turn aging Lake Forest estates into homes for a 21st Century lifestyle.
Much of Lake Forest’s large, expensive housing stock consists of older mansions on estates big enough for a large family and servants, according to a recent article in Crain’s Chicago Business.
One reason those homes are less popular today is young families have a different lifestyle from the one of their parents and grandparents lived, according to Deborah Fischer, a broker associate with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Koenig Rubloff Realty Group.
“All the research on the millennials is they are looking for smaller properties that are easier to maintain,” Fischer told DailyNorthShore.com. “Many of them grew up in comfortable-sized homes with backyards. Maybe they’ll feel differently when the third or fourth child comes along and a bigger house is the next step on their wish list.”
Meanwhile, Fischer said it is time for agents to think out of the box. She said some of the estates and mansions for sale in Lake Forest and Lake Bluff could become a bed and breakfast or luxurious multi-family dwellings while preserving the historic character.
Potential buyers who want to preserve historic Lake Forest mansions while finding a way to make them 21st Century homes will find help from the City of Lake Forest, according to Catherine Czerniak, the city’s director of community development.
“We already allow granny flats,” Czerniak said, referring to apartments above garages or other estate buildings once meant for servants. “People could consider a bed and breakfast or a small inn.”
Tracy Wurster, another agent with Berkshire Hathaway, said she has 20 listings ranging from $399,000 to $4.2 million. She said the highest priced, a 1930 estate with three buildings located at 830 Greenbay Road, is generating the most interest with potential buyers. Some of them have a variety of ideas for how they might use the property.
“One person wants it for a home and another for multi-family use,” Wurster said of the estate once owned by members of the Cudahy meatpacking family and later by W. Clement Stone as a summer home.
Dividing the estate buildings into residences and the manor homes into multiple large units of 2,500 to 4,000 square feet or more is another idea Wurster and Fischer said were possible uses of old estates.
“They could be very upscale condominiums or townhomes,” Fischer said. “The (owners) could lock the doors and go to Florida for the winter without worry.”
One Lake Forest couple purchased the original Lake Forest estate of A. Watson Armour of the Armour & Co. meatpackers in 2010, turning it into their business offices and home. The estate was originally developed in 1917, according to Craig Bergmann, one of the current owners. He said the Armour lifestyle was vastly different from the way people live today.
“They would travel here (from their Lake Shore Drive home in Chicago) with nine servants,” said Bergmann, who renovated the estate with his husband, Paul Klug. “We bought it for the land value.”
Now Bergmann and Klug live in a renovated and modernized home nearly a century old. They also operate their businesses from the premises—Bergmann Landscape Design, Inc., and Paul Klug, Inc., an interior design firm—with 17 employees, courtesy of a special use permit from the city.
When they decided the former Armour estate on Waukegan Road could be an ideal place for home and workplace, they talked to Czerniak. They told her about their plans and listened to her advice.
“She told us to talk to our neighbors and get their approval ahead of time,” Bergmann said. “We did that and we listened. They were supportive.”
One neighbor wanted to be sure employee parking would be out of sight, according to Klug. He said they made the adjustment. He also said they found ways to be neighborly by offering to design a more intense natural barrier between two properties.
“We did it at our cost. It was a win win for everyone,” Klug said. “No one owns property outright,” he added describing his philosophy of restoring the estate. “You are a steward.”