BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
A folly can be whatever you want it to be, and there’s nothing it can’t be. —James Shearron, co-designer of the garden folly at the Lake Forest Showhouse, open to the public through August 9.
At the nexus of the full-blown summer gardens at the Pullman Estate in Lake Forest, where circling paths cross with those leading to house and ravine, James Shearron of the Manhattan-based firm Bories and Shearron Architecture, along with his partner Richard Bories, added a whimsical delight. Think mock-Gothic ruins in English gardens, freestanding towers in Scotland, petite rotundas in Parisian parks: a folly exists simply for the viewer’s pleasure. (And can often be a thoroughly romantic destination.)
Here are a few follies that may beckon you to future travels:
“England was the birthplace of the folly,” Shearron told us. “They are often playhouses, can be several stories tall, and are places to go in a garden. I chose an 18th-century Chippendale style, open on all sides with a slat roof, perfect for a wisteria vine to twine around one day.”
Shearron grew up in Lake Forest and currently has several local clients. When his mother, Bea, died in 2019, he inherited her house (designed by Jerome Cerny, who worked for David Adler), and returns frequently. The house’s formal French gardens continue to delight him as they did when he was a child. He and Bories have become so enamored of their recent time here that they are planning to open a second office not far from the house.
As an intern for the Lake Forest Preservation Society, he once organized the archives of architect Stanley Anderson, whose influence is most felt on the Pullman Estate. Originally designed by Frost and Granger in 1906, the colonial-revival estate was completely renovated by Anderson in the late 1920s for investment banker William Allan Pinkerton Pullman, grandnephew of railroad magnate George Pullman. An avid gardener, Pullman was a co-founder of the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Shearron recalls how he first heard about Anderson: “I was a high school student at the tail end of the 1970s and was already excited about preservation. I went to a meeting at someone’s house where they were discussing preserving Anderson’s work. Lake Forest used to have the most marvelous movie theater on Market Square. Anderson’s studios were up above, and I would spread out his pencil drawings on a big wooden table. I would go in every day to try to put them all in order. He was known for American designs, particularly colonial revival structures. Where David Adler’s designs might be thought of as sexy, Anderson’s were tamer.”
Anderson made many contributions to the visual character of Lake Forest, including the design the concrete post and lantern-style streetlights throughout the city and Lake Forest High School, picked the most beautiful public high school in Illinois by Architectural Digest.
“When Dick and I first heard about the Anderson Showhouse, I said let’s do something,” Shearron says. “Nothing architectural really clicked at first but then we looked at the horseshoe-shaped gardens and realized that a centerpiece was needed. Being back in that garden I really felt I had come full circle. As a very young boy, I told Lake Forest’s legendary Margaret Wells that I wanted a summer job. She told me I might work in the Pullman garden.”
Bories and Shearron designed the folly pro bono with Bulley and Andrews, also pro bono, constructing it. The classical form 18th-century-style folly is rendered in mahogany and decorated in what was then called the “Chinese Taste,” inspired by the pattern book engravings of English architect William Halfpenny and the no-longer standing Ashhurst Summer House in Mount Holly, New Jersey. The folly ensures that there still can be magic in the air, despite these challenging times.
This was not Shearron’s first folly: “About ten years ago I was invited to participate in a Berkshire Botanic Gardens show devoted to follies and garden sheds. We had templates, and I wanted to do something very 18th century. I wove in the David Adler star, his black and white floors, and candle lanterns to create a privy. It was far from the house in the garden and made sense. A somewhat famous neighbor down the street from the gardens purchased it after the show. I think he removed the privy bench, but it is a folly in his garden.” Shearron, who was once an editor at House & Garden and is known for both designing and writing, has always admired Adler. He authored a chapter on Mrs. Marshall Field’s Long Island estate in a book on the architect.
We caught up with him in Jackson Hole where he is working on restoration of a board and batten lodge. Recent architectural assignments have taken him from Montecito, where he worked on the home of interior designer Suzanne Rheinstein, to Long Island, along with local restoration projects. He had just left Lake Forest, where he previewed the Showhouse, saying of the estate, “The gardens are stunning and to see them mid-summer is lovely—very uplifting in these dark times. The 23 rooms, each done by a different designer, are very au courant. They are fresh, lively, and show great energy. And, of course, the charity is so wonderful.”
Jennifer Camino Mower, Showhouse co-chair and president of the Lake Forest Chapter of the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago, tells us: “James Shearron and Dick Bories are as chic, elegant, and fun as the folly they designed for the beautiful rear gardens. We have all enjoyed getting to know them and are so happy they chose to spend time in Lake Forest this spring and summer. I feel like I have known them for decades.”
“The folly is so beautiful and really is a special room in its own right,” she continues. “I love anything Chinoiserie and the detail, fretwork, and craftsmanship on this piece are so exquisite, and the color on the floor is my favorite shade of blue.”
Mower thinks the folly serves as the perfect focal point for the lovely perennial gardens on the property, viewed from the house’s many windows. When you are in the folly and look at the back of the house, you can enjoy the same beautiful fretwork detail that was added to the home by Bulley and Andrews many years ago.
“We are so grateful to Bories and Shearron, Bulley and Andrews Residential and Restoration and their skilled team, Parenti and Raffaelli, Hull Millwork, Post and Picket, and Hester Painting for creating this masterpiece and donating 100 percent of the sale price to the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago. Especially this year, this gift is overwhelming,” she adds.
Mower and her team say they feel so fortunate to have opened their doors to the public safely, limiting the number of guests allowed in to tour the home each day and following social distancing guidelines. While these limitations prevent them from generating the same revenue they have in past years, at the end of the run, the folly can appear in your garden, with all proceeds from the sale going to the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago, helping them achieve their fundraising goal. Since its beginning, the Showhouse has raised over $4.5 million for the Angel Harvey Family Health Center of the IWSC, which provides full medical, vision, dental, maternal, and mental health services to people who desperately need them.
“Like so many other worthwhile organizations, many events held by the Auxiliary of Infant Welfare have been postponed or cancelled, so this is a true gift that will benefit thousands of people, and we are so grateful,” Mower shares. “I think guests who tour the home find it very livable, which it is. All of the rooms are the perfect size and the location is ideal,” Mower explains. “As I walk the halls and spend time in the home, I can picture the family that lives there. The home is for sale, so I hope the family I envision makes this their home and invites me over because I am really going to miss this house when September comes!”
Visit lakeforestshowhouse.com for more information on the show, its designers, and to buy tickets. Tickets are $40 and must be purchased in advance. The show runs through August 9. Hours: Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Saturday and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The public is also invited to follow @lfshowhouse on Instagram for a virtual glimpse at the estate’s transformation, both inside and out.