Classic Country Estates of Lake Forest: Architecture and Landscape Design 1856 - 1940

By Martin, Arthur Mead | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Classic Country Estates of Lake Forest: Architecture and Landscape Design 1856 - 1940


Martin, Arthur Mead, Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


Classic Country Estates of Lake Forest: Architecture and Landscape Design 1856 - 1940. By Kim Coventry, Daniel Meyer, and Arthur H. Miller (New York & London, W. W. Norton & Company, 2003. Pp. 312. Color plates, forward, maps, appendices, bibliography, acknowledgments, index. Cloth, $75.00).

With all that has been written about the Chicago School of Architecture, we tend to forget that, in the thirty-plus years immediately after the Chicago School burst on the scene, Chicago's exurbia saw the flowering of a more conservative but also compelling aesthetic in the elegant country houses and grounds commissioned by the city's emerging haute bourgeoisie.

Classis Country Estates of Lake Forest is a powerful antidote to the tendency to lose sight of and to devalue this impressive body of work. Its main mission, handsomely executed in detailed text and instructive pictures, is to identify and describe the architectural styles employed in these estate houses and their dependencies. In so doing, the authors also tell us a good deal about how these styles evolved over time, about the currents of thought in domestic design, and the role of the home in society, which brought particular styles into vogue, and about the specific historical precedents for particular houses. The material on the suburb's earliest large houses is of particular interest, as it is hard to come by elsewhere. Built before homes in the Lake Forest area began to be done on an Egyptian scale, and before the contributions of celebrity architects such as Howard Van Doren Shaw and David Adler, these early homes and gardens nevertheless foreshadow much of what was to come, and are interesting in their own right because of the way they reflect the particular energies of their owners and the passions that possessed their own decades.

The book makes an especially valuable contribution in its treatment of the grounds of these estates, since the garden art form tends to evade narrative description and is often lost before it can be adequately pictured. The authors remind us that it was a daunting challenge to coax landscapes out of Lake Forest's windswept and otherwise inhospitable terrain, and show how a combination of discerning patrons and talented architects, landscapers, and groundskeepers accommodated to these conditions and created and sustained gardens that, in variety and subtlety, rival the better known gardens of America's deep south and ocean coasts. This aspect of the book is improved not only by very seductive pictures but by plans for several of the gardens, some done in connection with the 1919 visit of the Garden Club of America to its constituent Lake Forest Garden Club and some done at the Foundation for Architecture and Landscape Architecture that briefly flourished in Lake Forest.

Classic Country Estates of Lake Forest has other features that will enliven your read. There are, for example, interesting photographs of denizens of this rarified world engaged in the diversions of their country life. …

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