Empty Nester Elegance

It’s difficult to imagine three more disparate design elements than formal French style, the newest technological gadgets, and universal design accessibility products for aging in place. But for Page Builders Inc. in Winnetka, Ill., these elements form a matrix for the perfect high-end home to meet the needs of a new generation of empty nesters.

The baby boomers are redefining what it means to age. On one hand, they’re a generation of people with the greatest accumulation of wealth in history, but their hearts and souls are rooted in the rock ’n’ rolling, war-protesting, perennially hip ’60s. The result is a demographic group that’s determined to stay active, independent and stylish as they get older, and have the means to finance their life’s journey.

Enter Page Builders, a family-run business that has specialized in designing and building luxury homes for residents of Chicago’s exclusive North Shore for the past 40 years. The company began with architect Charles Page, who adopted a forward-thinking, innovative approach from the company’s very beginning.

“I basically pioneered the design/build concept 45 years ago,” he recalls. “Hardly anyone was doing it. In fact, it was frowned upon by the AIA at that time. It was a conflict of interest, they felt. In other words, it would have too much of an effect on the design, since the architect was building.”

Today, design/build is recognized as the optimum approach for bringing an uncompromising architectural vision to fruition, and Page’s company is still going strong, now jointly run by offspring Catherine, Steven and Russell Page. And Charles Page has found a unique way of continuing his tradition of building classic homes. He designs a home for himself, Page Builders constructs it, Page lives in it while utilizing it as a showplace, and then sells it when he’s ready to build a new one.

“Things are changing in residential design faster than I’ve ever seen them change,” Page elaborates. “The house I just moved out of, I was there four or five years. We didn’t have plasma TVs, smart houses, lighting systems (when we built it) like (we have now). The appliances are changing fast. So five years is a long time in what we do. I like to live with the latest things, and I show a lot of prospective clients my home, so we want it to have the latest advances.”

A reverence for classic style
Page recently moved into his newest creation, which shows off his beloved triad of traditional style, technology and comfortable accessibility. His new $4.5 million project on Westmoor Road sets the stage immediately with its French Chateau-style turrets, big sweeping roofs and cut stonework exterior. “It’s a lot of authentic French detailing. It’s the way they built Paris several hundred years ago,” Page says.

The architect explains that he studied in France for several years, drove around and researched and collected quite a French library. Years later, he remains faithful to this formal European style, and its more playful, casual counterpart, country French design. On a practical level, “it’s also the most popular style in the higher-end suburbs of Chicago,” he notes.

The library particularly showcases the style’s ornate tradition, Page continues. “It’s all walnut, a deep warm color, with recessed panels on the walls and heavy carving. It has a custom limestone surround for the fireplace which I designed, which is very French. So it has a traditional feel, but it also has an (automated) lighting system, and invisible doors going into my drafting room where I design, and electric operated drapes.”

The residence’s smart-home style installations ensure that life in it is a strictly 21st century experience, Page emphasizes. “You can set lights to go on and off as you go through the house. There’s different mood lighting for the master bedroom and the library with central control.” Timed exterior lighting focuses on the architectural features of the house as well as aspects of the extensive landscaping.

Additionally, the house features a complete distributed audio system throughout, along with several built-in plasma TVs hooked up to a Crestron control system. The system controls music and video, and it’s hooked up to a satellite dish to play CDs, DVDs, and commercial-free satellite music in effect providing full home theaters in the great room, master bedroom and kitchen, Page explains.

An easy empty nester life
In the Westmoor house as well as other projects, Page Builders’ attention to accessibility concerns, without giving up one iota of authentic style, makes this firm’s builds uniquely suited for its mostly baby boomer clients.

“It’s primarily designed as an adult or empty nester house that can also double as a large family house during holidays and visits. It’s the type of house where people can have grown children and grandchildren (stay with them). They want to live on one level, and think about the future when they (might) have a hard time climbing stairs, but still be able to accommodate many guests in the upper quarters as needed,” Page says.

Unlike most Page Builders homes, this house doesn’t have an elevator. “We probably should have put an elevator in this one,” he admits. The focus of the home is on one-floor living, with a first floor master bedroom that is comfortable, cozy and not too big. Different ceiling treatments are used because two-story rooms aren’t warm enough for most people, Page finds.

Another must for empty nester homes is decorative grab bars, which these days are a far cry from the not-so-pretty, hospital-style, utilitarian chrome bars of old. They’re attractive, says Page, who favors the traditional combination of marble, white fixtures and polished brass hardware for bathroom decor.

Anyone can have an accident that lays them up for a while, so it’s appropriate to have grab bars in empty nester houses like this. Grab bars are appropriate in the shower, and in this home’s toilet room with a sink, he notes. The master bath features a large steam shower big enough for two, with a rainforest shower head, Page adds. The tub also is large enough for two people, and has both traditional jets and air bubbles.

A cozy, open floor plan
While the trappings may be from centuries past, the layout of the Westmoor residence is contemporary. “There’s no living room. They’re kind of passe,” Page believes. “The great room is a living room/family room combination overlooking the garden in the back, with a big arched window and a cut limestone fireplace. There’s a balcony looking down to the great room from the second floor. It opens up to a screened porch, which I design in every house I do.” One of the most beautiful spots in the house with its light, spare feel is the porch, which lends an outdoor vibe to the great room as do the skylights.

“The great room is a dramatic room, but not excessively big,” Page explains. “The kitchen opens all the way to the screened porch, so in the summer, the kitchen and the screened porch almost function as one big space,” he adds. This serves as a cozy, informal central gathering space for the home when friends and family visit. The neutral colors of stone and wood are accented by red tones in the furniture and chandelier. Elsewhere, the outdoorsy feel of the great room and screened porch is echoed in the floral prints of carpeting and art work.

The bright, open space overlooks elaborate landscaping outside with a waterfall that provides the serene, soothing sound of running water. The backyard also has a stream and a pond, complete with a school of koi.

The kitchen area features all the latest appliances, including a Thermador range, Sub-Zero and G.E. refrigerators and Miele dishwasher. “Most everything I do, including this house, is geared toward gourmet cooking,” Page says, but adds with a laugh; “Not too many people (actually) do gourmet cooking. Even the young families don’t use the kitchen the way we did 25 years ago.” Instead, they opt for restaurants, take-out and the microwave. But people love believing in the concept that they might actually be gourmet cooks some day, he adds.

Page’s gourmet kitchen lineup includes double sinks, double dishwashers, a large refrigerator and freezer. A recent addition he’s enthusiastic about is the Sub-Zero built-in wine chest with separate compartments for storing red and white wine at different temperatures. And in keeping with the French chateau theme, the wine chest in this residence has a leaded glass door.

Indeed, the kitchen’s up-to-the-minute technology and authentically Old World feel exemplifies the design objectives of the house. A cut limestone fireplace has a plasma TV directly above it. There’s a beamed ceiling, as well as a small balcony looking down from the second floor. Integral wood panel fronts make the appliances almost invisible, deftly avoiding the anachronistic look that derails some builders’ poorly planned kitchen designs. Page concludes, “The (technology) is modern, but the materials are warm.”