“QUIRKY DICK VAN DYKE house with brick floors” is how architect Tom Shafer describes the pre-makeover state of this 7,500-square-foot ranch house built in the 1950s. Contemporary for its time, the original form made extensive use of glass, steel, wood, and brick. The clients especially loved its modest appearance from the front. “They're kind of ‘fly-under-the-radar' people,” Shafer says. “They're not very showy.”

At one point the couple considered tearing down and building new, but nostalgia got in the way. “They wanted to preserve the feeling of the house [they had raised their kids in],” Shafer says, with its unassuming front elevation and floating rooflines. But they also wanted to open things up.

The first step was to whittle the frame dimensions down to their structural necessity. The illusion of a weightless ceiling hovering on bands of light (made possible with minimally scaled clerestory windows) was enhanced by replacing entire sections of wall with floor-to-ceiling picture windows.

An axial area now links the original living and dining rooms to a revamped kitchen, family room, home office, and exercise room, all of which border Zen-like gardens and a new lap pool. One of Shafer's favorite features is the owner's closet, which was grafted onto the house as an extension. “It's a serene little folly,” he says. “The floating roof glows at night, and it becomes a unique sculptural piece.”

And to think, it all started with a desire to stay in shape. The owner, an avid swimmer, wanted to be able to swim laps at home. That wasn't possible with the original pool, which had a kidney shape. Then one thing led to another, Shafer says. “The owner said, ‘Look what you did to me. I just asked you to fix the pool.'”

Category: Whole-house makeover; Entrant/Architect: Grunsfeld Shafer Architects, Evanston, Ill.; Builder: Rizzolo Brothers Co., Libertyville, Ill.; Interior designer: Insight, Highland Park, Ill.; Landscape architect: Scott Byron and Co., Lake Bluff, Ill.

METALLIC MASTERY Maintaining a mid-mod vibe required some ingenuity on the part of the design team. Fortunately, the Hope's steel windows and doors used in the original home, which provide expansive views with minimal frames, are still available. These, in turn, became the springboard for a motif that relies heavily on metal, including stainless steel kitchen counter-tops, etched stainless steel floor tiles in the master bath, and a lead-coated copper fireplace surround (one panel hides the TV). Lead-coated copper was also used on the gutters and to cover the concrete at the base of the exterior walls.