Case Study: Tudor Redux by Cohen & Hacker Architects

The 1913 Tudor Revival would need more than gallons of white paint to turn it into a welcoming, light-filled home for a 21st-century family. Originally designed by architect Ralph Stoetzel, the rundown 4,251-square-foot residence in Kenilworth, Illinois, felt dark and cavernous to its new owners, a sentiment not helped by its rustic brick exterior and abundance of dark-stained wood trim.

In fact, the owners were initially divided on the purchase. The husband loved its half-acre lot in the Chicago’s North Shore neighborhood. The wife envisioned a more bright and open home. A recommendation from their landscape architect, Doug Hoerr, led them to Stuart Cohen, FAIA, and Julie Hacker, FAIA, whose work has been described as “traditional” by modernist architects and “modern” by classical architects. In other words, Cohen & Hacker Architects was perfect for transforming the residence.

“The house was in such rough shape that it probably would have been a teardown,” Julie says. The city does not landmark buildings, she adds, “so it is up to clients and their architects to save the historic fabric of the community.”

Julie and Stuart began the gut renovation by reconfiguring the movement and flow through the house. Out went its rear wing, which included an attached garage. In went a two-story addition with a kitchen, breakfast area, family room, and stair down to a newly finished and full-height basement, and an arbor-topped breezeway that leads to a new detached garage.

On the second floor, a primary bedroom suite replaced a low-ceilinged servant’s quarters accessed by an intermediate staircase. Removing this stair to keep the entire second floor—existing and new—on one level, coupled with modern code requirements for higher railings, led to significant rework of the main staircase. The project preserved the stair’s intricate wood detailing by extending the profile of existing balusters and topping new newel posts with finials that matched the existing.

To imbue a modern feel into the traditional architecture, Stuart and Julie relocated room openings from wall centers to corners or edges. “This interconnects the spaces in a way that wasn’t typical of traditional architecture,” Stuart says, “but was the way that classical 20th-century modern architecture worked in terms of making open plans.” 

Tudor Redux’s bright palette of whites and grays is the most immediately visible change from the original house. “Our first instinct is not to paint all the woodwork,” Stuart acknowledges, but bleaching and then re-staining the dark trim was not a surefire win for a lot of work.

The architects drew from the existing trim profiles to create a consistent look across old and new spaces. The trim also signals if spaces are to be experienced as continuous or discontinuous. For example, trim that wraps a wall opening and enters the next room suggests continuity between the spaces. Like Frank Lloyd Wright’s use of decorative elements in his early Prairie architecture, Stuart says, “it’s always in support of a spatial reading rather than an elaboration of surface.”

No wonder that the firm’s interior architecture often feels like “cabinetry,” Julie says. “The trim is so figured out that it becomes background.” Nothing sticks out as awkward or overthought.

Ceiling work also subtly delineates spaces. Wood beams create a spacious grid in the family room but run closely in parallel in the kitchen. The homeowners requested white stone for the kitchen, but Julie, demurring at specifying materials that easily stain— like marble— chose Laminam, a ceramic surfacing product made in Italy that emulates the look of stone. Though some people snub faux materials, both the architects and owners were pleased. “I laid out the panels as I would with marble slabs, the product cleans easily, and they look great,” Julie says.

Along with updating the MEP systems, the project opened the original plaster walls to add insulation to meet modern energy standards. Wood Thermopane windows replaced the single-glazed, steel casement windows everywhere but at the main stair. There, the architects preserved the distinctive stepping windows, which contain several violet-tinted glass lites, and painted their dark wood surround in blue-gray.

Along with painting the exterior trim gray, the owners wanted the house’s extensive red-brown brick changed to creamy white. This decision proved serendipitous, as the masonry paint masked slight color variations between new and old brick, helping the addition appear original to the architecture. The lighter hue also accentuated the projecting brick stretchers, arranged in a pattern that matched the existing.

Also key to the cohesive look of the project was Julie’s and Stuart’s decision to keep the addition massing simple. The west elevation retains an original gable and the stepping windows. Then, Julie says, “you just quiet down the rest of it.” 

Some architects might go the other direction, Stuart notes with a laugh. “Why do one gable or two when you can do six?”

“That’s what gives traditional architecture a bad rap,” Julie says knowingly. “When it goes awry, it really goes awry. In our work, it’s all about editing.”

Tudor Redux 

Kenilworth, Illinois

Architect/Builder: Stuart Cohen, FAIA, and Julie Hacker, FAIA; Brad Korando, Stuart Cohen & Julie Hacker Architects, LLC, Evanston, Illinois

Builder: C&P Remodeling, Wheeling, Illinois

Interior designer: MCDesign, LLC

Landscape architect: Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, Chicago

Lighting Designer: AKLD Lighting Design, LTD, Wilmette, Illinois

Project size: 2,250 square feet (addition); 4,200 square feet (remodeling)

Site size: 0.5 acre

Construction cost: $500 a square foot

Photography: Tony Soluri (after); VHT Studio (before)

Cabinetry/millwork/moldings/trim: Designed by Cohen & Hacker, fabricated by Paoli Woodworking

Countertops: Laminam (kitchen), calacatta (bathrooms)

Door Hardware: Baldwin (exterior doors), Frank Allart/Chicago Brass (interior doors)

Faucets/Fittings: Perrin & Rowe (kitchen), Lefroy Brooks (primary bath), Waterworks (secondary baths)

Fireplace: Earthcore modular (bedroom, family room)

Kitchen Appliances: Wolf, Miele, Sub-Zero

Sinks: Rohl, Lefroy Brooks (primary bath), Waterworks (secondary baths)

Tile: Waterworks

Toilets: Kohler

Wine Refrigerator: Sub-Zero

Windows: Pella