Suburban designers help transform 1906 mansion for Lake Forest Showhouse

Lovers of innovative, state-of-the-art home furnishings and decor biennially flock to Lake Forest or Lake Bluff to tour a recently redecorated mansion with each room expertly transformed by a different designer.

The three- or four-week show, usually held in late spring but postponed this year because of COVID-19, raises funds for the Angel Harvey Family Health Center of the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago, which has provided health care to Chicago's medically underserved for more than 108 years. Widely recognized as one of the top showhouses in the country, the Lake Forest Showhouse & Gardens has raised more than $4.5 million for the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago since its inception in 1985.

This year, 39 interior and landscape designers have transformed an elegant 23-room, 11,000-square-foot Colonial-style home, designed in 1906 by Frost and Granger and situated on three beautiful acres in east Lake Forest, into the 2020 Lake Forest Showhouse & Gardens.

Nearly a century ago the original home was completely renovated by architect Stanley Anderson for investment banker William Allan Pinkerton Pullman, the grandnephew of George M. Pullman, the developer and manufacturer of Pullman railroad cars.

Anderson, the architect whose influence is most evident at the Pullman estate, also made many contributions to the visual character of Lake Forest, designing the concrete post and lantern-style streetlights throughout the city and also Lake Forest High School, designated as the most beautiful public high school in Illinois by Architectural Digest.

An avid gardener and co-founder of the Chicago Botanic Garden, Pullman worked in 1937 with New York landscape architect Annette Hoyt to create world class gardens on the property. Some of the original plantings still exist — from a Ginkgo tree of epic proportion to rare Chinese maples and Japanese lilacs, as well as boxwood hedges.

The house itself has a timeless elegance and includes a large living room, sunroom and parlor, and a fireplace-warmed family room. The master suite has two dressing rooms, a bath, a sitting room and the bedroom, which has a stone-clad fireplace and a balcony overlooking magnificent gardens.

Exciting design trends this year include lots of colorfully painted wood floors, kitchen cabinets, walls and ceilings, gold-hued drawer pulls and other metal accoutrements, window benches galore and sisal carpeting in high traffic areas. One bathroom even featured a window frame made of marble to match the shower.

Suburban professionals had a hand in the showhouse, including the design of two rooms — the master suite and an office space for the modern woman — and the hand-painted wall mural in the girl's bedroom.

Master suite

Renee DiSanto and Christina Samatas of Park & Oak in Glen Ellyn were the designers of the master bedroom.

“After a long day, the master bedroom should feel like the perfect respite from the chaos of life,” DiSanto and Samatas wrote in the program. “This was the inspiration behind this moody retreat that did not just include a place to sleep, but also to relax and work.”

“We wanted to keep the room classic, but add some modern twists,” explained Samatas, “to pull the character out of the room and give it soul. We used the timeless aesthetic of Ralph Lauren as our inspiration and added a wine and coffee bar with a beverage refrigerator to make it even more of a retreat.”

The room features a velvet sofa, complemented by a custom-designed marble coffee table in the seating area, a wooden writer's desk and a Highland House bed, all beneath a wallpapered ceiling with a botanical motif that will help the inhabitants sleep peacefully.

“Doing the showhouse was a great experience and I'm sure we would do it again because it is done for such a great cause,” Samatas said.

Girl's bedroom

David Ryan of Rolling Meadows hand-painted the “chinoiserie” of birds on tree branches which covers the walls of the girl's bedroom, designed by Joey Leicht of Chicago.

Chinoiserie is the European interpretation and imitation of Chinese and East Asian artistic traditions, especially in the decorative arts, garden design, architecture, literature, theater and music. First appearing in the 17th century, this trend was popularized in the 18th century because of a rise in trade with China and East Asia.

“I have been painting for residential and commercial clients for more than 20 years in the Chicago metropolitan area,” Ryan said on his website. “I continue to introduce new finishes and decorative materials to grow and change with the industry. I draw from my deep knowledge and love of art history for each art commission that I take on.”

Ryan has a wide range of artistic abilities that homeowners and designers can draw upon to incorporate unique designs, textures and effects into their rooms.

Modern woman's office space

Melinda Cahill and Suzanne Glavin of North Shore Nest in Glenview transformed the second-floor office into a woman's space. They say they designed it for the modern professional woman or “household CEO” who wants to “maximize the functionality of a smaller space.”

“Every piece was carefully chosen to provide the utmost utility while keeping these elements sophisticated and inviting for guests. The wallpaper and window treatment floral pattern is the inspiration for the room's color palette, which is balanced by deep berries, charcoals and blues. The skirted banquette and pillows are perfect for lounging and the shagreen laptop table is illuminated by upholstered pleated lampshades. The addition of a faux fireplace, berry-painted moldings and closet-turned-bookshelf, elevates this tiny jewel box to a cozy den for working and relaxing,” Cahill and Glavin wrote in the program.

“This was the first time we have ever done a designers' showcase house but we have many design friends who have done them in the past, so this year we decided to make the showcase house our marketing focus,” Cahill explained.

“We wanted to work on a room where we could show what we could do in a small space with a lot of softgoods,” Glavin said. “So, we chose the upstairs office where we added a faux fireplace and made it into a woman's space featuring a banquette soft seating space with laptop tables for checking emails and working on a laptop computer.”

“We didn't want to design a typical office with a desk because so many people are not working that way anymore, especially during this pandemic,” Cahill added. “We thoroughly enjoyed doing this for such an amazing cause, but because of COVID we had to miss out on meeting and working with the other designers, so we will certainly do it again in the future.”

If you go

The Lake Forest Showhouse & Gardens will be open daily through Sunday, Aug. 9.

Following state safety guidelines, a restricted number of tickets will be sold per day, divided by morning and afternoon sessions, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. No tickets will be sold on site.

The $40 tickets must be purchased in advance at

Incidentally, many of the items at the showhouse and gardens will be available for sale. A price list of items for sale from furnishings to accessories will be made available in each designer space. Purchased items can be picked up following the close of the house, with 15% of the sale benefiting the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago.

All designers — along with their room renderings that reference paint colors, wall treatments, art and textiles used in each space — are detailed in the showhouse program book, which is included with each ticket purchase.

In addition, a 16-foot tall garden folly, constructed by Bulley & Andrews and designed by the Manhattan-based architecture firm of Bories & Shearron, will be available for purchase with 100% of the sale price benefiting the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago.

  The greenhouse work area off the kitchen of the Pullman Estate in Lake Forest. The 23-room, 11,000-square-foot mansion has been transformed by more than 30 interior and landscape designers. Mark Welsh/
Melinda Cahill, left, and Suzanne Glavin, of North Shore Nest based in Glenview, designed the home office for a woman in the Lake Forest Showhouse. Courtesy of Melinda Cahill
  Custom cabinetry painted in a saturated hue sets the tone for the breakfast room off the kitchen. Mark Welsh/
  A hand-painted silk wall treatment frames the emerald-drenched sun room. Mark Welsh/
  The kitchen has the original floor but a modern surprise: a built-in vacuum system under the cabinets - sweep the dirt under the cabinets and the vaccuum turns on. Mark Welsh/
David Ryan of Rolling Meadows paints a bird motif in the girl's bedroom designed by Joey Leicht Design of Chicago for the Lake Forest Showhouse. Courtesy of Lake Forest Showhouse
  This hand-painted wood floor is in one of the bathrooms of the Pullman Estate. Mark Welsh/
  The Pullman Estate is the site for the 2020 Lake Forest Showhouse & Gardens. Mark Welsh/
  This girl's bedroom in the Pullman Estate features a design painted by David Ryan of Rolling Meadows. Mark Welsh/
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