Harkening to a time of craftsmanship, skillful design, and speakeasies, Bruce and Laureen Grieve of Lake Forest open their one-of-a-kind Art Deco home to us.
Photographs by Jon Cancelino
Laureen and Bruce Grieve have a heart for provenance—the history of ownership of an object, piece of art, or home. And when it came time to find a house in Lake Forest 12 years ago, their romance with “the story” certainly influenced their decision. Laureen and Bruce snapped up an architectural masterpiece reflecting one of America’s most extraordinary eras of design enlightenment. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the salmon-colored Art Deco wonder they call home is nestled among the rolling hills of the Knollwood Club, a contemporary standout amongst its more traditional neighbors.
Built in 1932 by Colonel Robert H. Morse and designed by the prominent Chicago architecture firm of Zimmerman, Saxe & Zimmerman, the estate’s history is just about as colorful as its interior. At the time its foundation was being laid, America was suffering through a 25 percent jobless rate and battling notorious gangsters defying Prohibition. “It’s amazing to think that while the country was in the midst of the Great Depression and Prohibition,” says Bruce, “there was Colonel Morse, who desired a new summer home for his family and went ahead and built it.”
So many years later, the Grieves were grateful Colonel Morse made his dream become a reality. When it came to picking out their first dwelling together as a married couple, Laureen and Bruce had not set out to find an Art Deco home. But after a long day of house-hunting with this home as their last stop, the Grieves knew the house was “the one” within seconds of standing in the foyer. Laureen cites it was the attention to detail and craftsmanship that enveloped her immediately.
In an instant, their new home became a passion, as well as a project. Laureen and Bruce set out to restore much of the home to its original stature. With the assistance of old photographs inherited with the house and a visit from Colonel Morse’s grandson (and his good memory), they refurbished 93 of the original light fixtures and recreated the rooms to reflect their organic, imaginative purpose.
“The more work we did around the house and looked at the original plans, the more we found things that really spoke to how they lived back then,” says Bruce.
They acquired various Art Deco furniture and goods through auctions, estate sales, and even flea markets in order to decorate the home, sealing its authenticity. The search for unique items still continues today.
Even before restoration, the interior design of the estate was Art Deco through and through, reflecting a period of time in American architecture that mirrored social and industrial change.
“American Deco, specifically, tried to bring movement in its design and took inspiration from steamships and zephyr trains,” says Laureen. Embracing this association, the home was designed to resemble a ship, with the westward-facing, large bay windows in the living room representing the “stern,” and the eastward, small angled windows heading to the upper level, acting as the “bow.” The ship-design angle is carried throughout the entire home, with uniquely designed windows and even portholes in the basement.
In addition to the design echoing the era, the devise of Art Deco has many recognizable traits, with this home’s properties being no exception. Most notable is the “rule of three’s.” Occurring in most architecture and furniture, designers somehow included three of any component: three lines, three steps, three circles, etc. From the fireplace to the moldings, the home has embodied this rule. “It does seem unusual because the number three is an odd number, but it really is all pulled together in a symmetrical way,” says Bruce.
Art Deco is a very encompassing phrase. It can include French style Art Deco, the parallel movement of Art Moderne (which is the style of the home’s exterior), and even Miami style Art Deco, which can be experienced through the home’s many etched mirrors depicting flora and fauna. Bruce and Laureen have educated themselves about these many versions of Art Deco and embraced them all under one roof.
But if this style is so interesting and so much fun to work with, why aren’t there many Art Deco-designed homes in the area? Bruce points out that many art experts explain that the movement came and went so quickly because Art Deco was “design for design’s sake” and not always strong on functionality. The Great Depression really knocked back the movement with money being so tight—plus, many argue that the furniture wasn’t all that comfortable (though it sure made a space look amazing!). If a room was truly designed in pure Deco, its style would take you to a different place—one of symmetry and serenity.
The best example of this type of design is the home’s “tavern.” Located in the basement, this room is true to Art Deco form. But it can be imagined that Colonel Morse did not model this space to be used as a showcase piece. It had one function: to enjoy a drink in the company of others (most likely men). While they cannot prove anything factually, Laureen and Bruce have been told that, during Prohibition, the men of the house would come in from a side entrance after a long day of golf, visit the changing room, and then retire to the tavern for a drink (mixed in separate quarters by the help), and probably enjoy an evening of playing cards. It was a private place to not only get away from the women, but to shy away from the law.
The home was definitely designed for entertaining, and Laureen and Bruce do plenty of that. The home is a happy one, and even with small children, they don’t sacrifice what originally drew them to the home in the first place. They have taught their children Kate (age 7) and Pierce (age 6) respect for their surroundings. With the exception of a few rare pieces, the couple allows the children to play anywhere they choose. And this appreciation has sparked a shared interest with their parents. “They are now old enough to go to flea markets and antique stores with us. They actually look around and try to find things that could work in the house,” says Laureen. “We are hopefully passing down a tradition.”