BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
How many of us haven’t dreamed of returning to explore the rooms of our childhood home? For Susan Amory Weninger, this dream will soon be a possibility—the two-acre estate in Lake Forest built in 1922 by Howard Van Doren Shaw where she and her brothers grew up will be open to the public as the 2017 Lake Forest Showhouse and Gardens. Sponsored by the Lake Forest Chapter of the Infant Welfare Society of Chicago, visitors will have the chance to walk the grounds and tour inside the home from April 29 through May 21.
Over 30 home and garden designers will re-imagine the 12-room house and the five-room coach house for the 17th annual show benefitting Infant Welfare’s Angel Harvey Community Health Center in Logan Square. International designer and author Mark D. Sikes, whose Schumacher fabrics will be featured in the dining room, is the honorary chair and guest lecturer.
Susan, who still lives in Lake Forest with her two sons and husband, Darren, sat down with us recently to reminisce about her childhood in the Historic Preservation Award-winning English country house originally built as a summer residence. Her late parents, Mary and David Amory, lived in the house for over 25 years. Built originally by the Hinkley family, the estate has also been home to Laura and Fred Fellows.
“I recently walked through the house on the bare bones tour before the decorators began. It was emotional but also an opportunity to share snippets of memories. I loved seeing my room that still has the sunroom next to it, where I loved to hang out, and the dining room, where our Thanksgiving feast was the finest of family times.
“The view is the same, with the wonderful old elm tree out my window. We had the only male and female elm trees in town, and my parents joked that they spent more money on keeping them alive than on anything else.”
“My parents loved the Arts and Crafts charm of the house and enjoyed American antiques. My mom’s favorite color was blue, and our dining room was navy with white trim. My room was blue, pink, and green.
“It was a more simple time then—we loved being close to town and having the Winter Club across the street. We adored having all the land for play and also having the Lake not far away. I remember my father, cigar firmly between his teeth, mowing the whole yard himself. Ours was the ‘hang out house’ in Lake Forest. I was 13 years younger than my brothers and I loved watching them play football with their Lake Forest College friends.”
“Halloween was really our house’s biggest night of the year. My parents transformed it into a haunted house, and the sound of howling wolves was broadcast out the doors. They were always in costume, and I remember a few little children being scared!”
Susan’s love of her childhood home subconsciously influenced the choice that she and her husband made for their own Lake Forest house.
“I fell in love with a house designed by the architect Stanley Anderson and learned subsequently that he worked under Howard Van Doren Shaw. My brothers might have tormented me by hanging my stuffed animals from all the trees at times, but they were very sweet to insist that I get the dining room furniture from the house.
“It brings back many Thanksgiving laughs around that table. There was a moving sale recently, and it was wonderful bringing my sons, age 8 and 10, to the house to share my stories. They played in the yard and one remarked, ‘What a cool life!’”
A house often holds fascinating secrets:
“The current living room has an oversized fireplace with a carving of knights jousting on a limestone wall. The owners before my parents had covered that up, and it is wonderful that the owners after my parents discovered it.”
The current owner did extensive renovations of the house, but Susan remembers her mother’s kitchen expansion of 1992.
“The current owner has redone my mother’s kitchen, but that was mom’s big project. Kitchens weren’t very important to the owners in the days the house was built.
“Before, you had to walk through the guest room to get to the kitchen. She combined the laundry room and pantry into one big kitchen. Our big family dinner was Sunday night in the breakfast room. During the week, my father worked late, and mom would feed my brothers and me before they had dinner together.”
The coach house has special memories.
“A wonderful Scottish couple lived there, and he became like a grandfather to me. One of his part time jobs was as a bagger at the grocery store, and everybody knew him and loved him. The coach house wasn’t open on the bare bones tour, and I can’t wait to see what they have created.”
A host of celebrated designers, including Susan Brunstrum of Sweet Peas Design, Shelley Johnstone, Michael Del Piero of Good Design, Sarah Whit, Jodi Morton of 2to5 Design, and Wendy Labrum, are currently adding finishing touches to their rooms, which promise to be filled with surprises.
Mariani Landscape will partner with past Lake Forest Show House Honorary Chair Alessandra Branca to design the 920-square foot back patio while Craig Bergmann Landscape Design will re-imagine two spaces and feature an outdoor market.
Mark D. Sikes will lecture and sign copies of his book Beautiful: All-American Decorating and Timeless Style on April 30 in the afternoon.
“I am excited for the house and excited for Infant Welfare. I wouldn’t miss being there for opening night,” Susan said.
The Lake Forest Showhouse & Gardens will be open for tours seven days a week from April 29 through May 21. Tours are offered Monday through Friday, 9 am until 2 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm. Tickets are available online for $35 a person and at the door for $40 per person. Tickets for the Mark Sikes presentation are $135 per person, which includes his presentation, book, and a tour of the house and its grounds.
For further information about tickets and transportation, visit lakeforestshowhouse.com.