Design ranked quite low on Mike Xu and Alice Zhao’s priority list when they relocated from Peoria to Lincolnshire for new career opportunities. Instead, the couple looked for a house close to the airport (a must for Xu, a CEO), and one that would have enough space for Zhao’s parents, who live with them and their teenage son. Just as importantly, the dwelling had to have great feng shui. “It has to be right,” Zhao says. “The right feng shui makes it feel like home.”
A 6,000-plus square-foot home on a large property that backs up to a forest preserve satisfied the must-have list, and then they were able to turn their attention back to aesthetics. After searching designers online, the couple hired Anthony Michael Interior Design to bring the dated ’90s-era abode into the present day. “I’m a scientist, not a decorator, so I could design a house, but it wouldn’t be beautiful,” Zhao explains. “Anthony was very excited and has a lot of passion for interior design. We liked that.”
The designer started with the exterior, adding a bluestone driver’s court that “would make Louis XVI envious,” and also replacing the shingles with a much more contemporary standing seam metal roof. “It was a big Georgian box with no personality that was completely out of scale,” Michael explains, noting that it was the least attractive house on the block by far. “The project just kept growing, and expanded into a renovation that took almost 14 months.”
The changes start in the front foyer, where the original polished marble floor has been honed to create a more contemporary look. Michael also redesigned the staircase, its drywall shell replaced with an open railing made of brushed and stainless steel. “It has such a nice twist—a sexy look that feels very 1930s deco,” Michael says, noting that the more open design also improves the flow of energy, adhering to the principles of feng shui. “I love its scale, its attitude.”
In addition, the formerly carpeted risers have been replaced with fumed French oak flooring. The wood planks flow into the cavernous, lofted living area, where it’s just one of a chorus of grays in different tones that Michael selected for the walls, rugs and upholstery. “The client originally wanted an all-white house, but I told her that it would be too boring,” Michael explains. “The gray background allows the white to really pop.”
The open space has been divided into two areas, one anchored by a plush sectional sofa in front of the TV; another alongside the low-slung basalt fireplace near the built-in windows overlooking the backyard, where Zhao especially enjoys relaxing on the settee with her dog, Cookie, by her side. “We have the rustic chandeliers in the great room mixed with comfortable furnishings,” Michael says. “It all works together beautifully—it has interest, texture and scale.”
Indeed, addressing the home’s oversize scale was crucial, Michael explains, pointing to a tall white wall sculpture that he commissioned from artist Steven Hettrich to hang above the fireplace. The 3-D piece made quite an impression on Zhao and Xu, who were not permitted to see it until it was finished and hung. “It’s just meant to be there,” Zhao says.
The artistic flourishes have been carried into the kitchen, where a reverse-painted glass backsplash featuring cherry blossoms complements the thick marble countertops. A chandelier comprised of five string balls softly illuminates the oversize island. “We wanted something playful,” Michael says.
The script has been flipped in the more serious study, where the walls have been clad with cerused oak paneling, and the ceiling with stained tea paper. A custom waterfall-style Statuary marble two-sided desk allows the son to do homework alongside his father, while vintage art deco club chairs add a comfortable space for visitors. “We wanted it to feel very comfortable and adult,” Michael says. “It’s more conducive to quiet time.”
“We’re slowly starting to entertain friends, and we’re happy that we can invite my husband’s clients for dinner,” Zhao says, talking about the result of the home’s transformation. “It’s pretty exciting.” And the renovation has also won over their pooch who has had no trouble adjusting to the new digs. “We were living in a small apartment during the renovation, so we sent her to day camp, and she loved it,” Zhao explains, “but she likes this house so much that she doesn’t want to go to day care anymore!”