Shades of Gray Up the Luxe in Historic Evanston Home

Warm gray tones, luxurious fabrics, and a reconfigured floor plan revitalize a historic home in Evanston.

As the program director for Evanston Scholars, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income, first-generation high school students with high potential to gain access to four-year colleges and financial aid, Nancy Baker often hosts events in her home.

During a recent gathering of students, Baker was reminded by how well her recently renovated home functioned for soirées of all sizes. “When I was planning my housewarming party, the caterer pointed out that there was enough room for 32 people to sit comfortably at the same time,” Baker explains, pointing to the bespoke oversized ottomans that can double as seating. “He said that my interior designer is a genius.”

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One of Baker’s favorite retreats is the den. “When my daughter is home from college watching a movie, I’ll go into this room, close the door and read,” Baker says. “The color is very warm and inviting. It’s like a sanctuary.”

That would be Nicholas Moriarty, who was referred to Baker by friends in the area. Before launching his own firm, the designer cut his teeth doing visual merchandising at the Andersonville vintage boutique Scout, which happens to be one of Baker’s favorite haunts. “Between the job that he had done on their house and the aesthetic of Scout, it was obvious that he was going to be a great fit,” Baker says.

The historic home was built in 1874 in the Italianate style and was originally located three blocks from its current location before it was moved to its current spot in the 1890s. “By then, the style that was more popular was Queen Anne, so they added a third floor and a wrap-around porch,” Baker says. Over the years, Baker and her family had become frustrated with its tiny, boxed-off, rooms and awkward layout.

Moriarty was up to the challenge, and with the help of architect Ray Kendra and CAB Associates in Evanston, he redesigned the floor plan by eliminating walls, adding a new staircase and replacing one of the home’s three bedrooms with a new spa-like master bathroom complete with marble floors and custom vanities.

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Moriarty transformed what was once a bedroom into a spa-like master bathroom with sedimentary marble from Ann Sacks. “I hand-selected the stone so that it highlights the blue-green veining,” says Moriarty, who also designed the casegoods, makeup counter and makeup desk.

The renovation also gave Baker the opportunity to replace the original wood floors. “Over 140 years, they had been sanded and worn beyond repair and had started to split and form gaps,” Baker explains. Most importantly, the renovation offered the opportunity to reinforce the house down to its foundation—something that had not been done properly when the house was moved.

Baker, who lived in a neighbor’s coach house during the five-month renovation, was astonished by her home’s transformation. “One of the best attributes of an Italianate home is the floor-to-ceiling windows, and when the walls came down, the whole place was flooded with light,” Baker says. “I should have foreseen it, but I didn’t.”

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Reconfiguring the location of the staircase allowed Moriarty to create a more suitable floor plan on the third level and incorporate a storage closet, but it also required them to reinforce the entire house down to the basement. “It took us three months to finish the staircase, but they got it 110 percent right,” Baker says. A skylight at the top of the stairs floods both floors with light. 

Nor did she foresee how much she would come to appreciate the suite of warm gray hues that Moriarty selected for every wall and even the ceilings. “One of the first things that Nancy said is that she didn’t want a gray house, but once she saw the medium tone qualities of the wood elements and had a full understanding of the textiles, she came to an appreciation of the contrast that gray would lend to the space,” Moriarty says.

To complement Baker’s existing family heirlooms, the designer selected new furnishings and bespoke pieces of his own design, which he covered in sumptuous fabrics. “It was about balancing those moments— a slightly transitional chair with a contemporary table with an antique walnut sideboard that they’ve had in their family for a long time,” the designer explains. “I have a very collected, eclectic viewpoint of modern-day interiors. It’s not about being beholden to any one area.”

Baker can’t say enough about her new home. “Nicholas saw that the house had survived all of these styles, and his design sort of reflects this entire arc of all the people and styles that have lived there,” Baker says.  “We own the house, but really, we feel we are its temporary stewards; we are part of its legacy.”

More photos from the Evanston home:

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Complementary layers of blue, including a navy velvet headboard and a set of Cobalt lacquered side tables from Bungalow 5, create a peaceful feeling in the master bedroom. 

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A bespoke chandelier by Raymond Barberousse from Studio PGRB in Chicago illuminates the contemporary dining table and Restoration Hardware chairs, which Moriarty reupholstered in textiles from Kravet and Osborne & Little. 

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Photos by Mieke Zuiderweg