The Designers’ Designer

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Garry and Suzanne are drawn to the beauty beneath the surface, find inspiration in things not immediately obvious. The calmness of a park or the glow of a sunset. The adrenaline rush within a hockey rink. The texture of a rug on bare feet. Lively dinner conversations, comforting scent of homemade stews or the way light accents a surface.

Like many designers, they’re driven by the simple notion that good design is both an artistic and social endeavor that has the potential to change how we react to the world around us. 

In 2009, the husband and wife team launched Shumaker Design + Build Associates in Evanston, Illinois, an Architect led design-build firm, just north of Chicago, filling a desire to work for a wider range of clients. Drawn to expansive windows that allow natural light to stream in throughout the day, they even designed their street-level studio together, opting to use simple and inexpensive materials as the backdrop that would highlight their team’s skillsets and showcase who they are as a firm. Their space often serves as inspiration to clients and has been the springboard to designs for other spaces.

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Modern History 

Suzanne and Garry developed their affinity for historic homes while working on projects in New York City and Brooklyn, before moving to Chicago. They enjoyed the responsibility of staying true to the historical significance of the structure while transforming it to meet the needs of modern-day living and the opportunity to reassemble it in a way that is respectful of the historic fabric.

Philosophically they find that intentionally-designed homes invite gatherings, family and community, and enhance our everyday life. They become part of the fabric of our memories and Suzanne and Garry are honored so many of their clients, many of whom are designers themselves, entrust them to be part of that process. 

They fondly recall one of their favorite projects, an Italianate home, and the feeling of privilege given the opportunity to work with and advise the family who bought the historic home. “Each project is special and meaningful to us,” they say, noting the challenge of being both responsive to their client’s needs and the evolution of the modern family living in historic properties.

It all started with a porch. (2013, City of Evanston, Preservation and Design Award/Sensitive Alteration.) Italianate House.

It all started with a porch. (2013, City of Evanston, Preservation and Design Award/Sensitive Alteration.) Italianate House.

Kitchen Remodel. Italianate House. (2018)

Kitchen Remodel. Italianate House. (2018)

Rear addition (2018, City of Evanston, Preservation & Design Award/Sensitive Addition.) Italianate House.

Rear addition (2018, City of Evanston, Preservation & Design Award/Sensitive Addition.) Italianate House.

Working Together To Create Responsive and Engaging Environments

When a client expresses interest in working with Shumaker Design, the initial consultation is designed to elicit discovery and fun. They use this opportunity to develop a relationship conducive to their process.

Each client is different and their team takes their relationship with each very seriously. They begin the process with an interview to determine if they have the same philosophical views on how the client wants to use the space. They love connecting with clients who appreciate design and the value of the planning process. The interview process often reveals how involved the client would like to be and it’s also the time Shumaker Design shares what will be expected of the client. Some clients, they admit, trust them unconditionally and aren’t as involved while others appreciate a more hands-on and collaborative process. The team welcomes the opportunity to work with their clients however involved they’d like to be. 

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Good design should create an environment that is responsive to the needs of the client and stimulates them. By working together closely at the onset, Suzanne and Garry work to identify the challenges and context in which they’re working so they can create solutions that give way to new forms of expression and to enhance their clients’ everyday lives. Fundamentally, to make good design is to be thoughtful of those who will be using it, mindful of the environment that surrounds it, and is created in an engaging way that is an expression of its residents and the world in which they live.

Creating a beautiful space needn’t be stressful nor overwhelming. Good design can be accessible for anyone with proper planning. Suzanne and Garry welcome the opportunity to work with clients to create spaces that are perfect for them and to find those details that make their spaces uniquely their own.

Shumaker Design, conference room.

Shumaker Design, conference room.

Inspiration & Philosophy: Finding the Beauty in the Everyday

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Suzanne and Garry find inspiration in the beauty of everyday, whether it’s the vibrant threads in a kilim rug, the smoothness texture of natural stone, or the roughness of a tree trunk. “What is exciting is to see the combination pulled together, the entirety of the room with thoughtful pairings,” says Suzanne. “From beauty up close, to stepping back in the room and seeing a room that is cohesive, and then stepping out of the space to the shell of the building and knowing our work encompassed all levels of scale, living and non-living.”

Part of their passion is the opportunity to work with diverse elements and integrate a collaborative vision for the project. 

They are devoted to providing innovative solutions to their projects, whether it’s a custom residential project or commercial work. They apply a collaborative approach to exploring design concepts and developing solutions that meet their client’s needs, from initial concept to  the final details of construction, to help realize their client’s vision for their home or space.

Lakefront property. Evanston, IL. (2018, Outdoor Spa and terrace)

Lakefront property. Evanston, IL. (2018, Outdoor Spa and terrace)

Threadless Headquarters, Chicago. (2019, photo during construction)

Threadless Headquarters, Chicago. (2019, photo during construction)

Mid-century modern house remodel, Winnetka, IL. (2018, Regional Winners, Blue Star Kitchen Design Contest)

Mid-century modern house remodel, Winnetka, IL. (2018, Regional Winners, Blue Star Kitchen Design Contest)

Presque Isle, WI.

Presque Isle, WI.

Whenever possible, they love to incorporate a bold color into their spaces they are creating. Suzanne can often be found carrying her Nikon D710, 35mm art lens with her everywhere she goes, calling her camera her assistant, and documenting the pure beauty of the art of the everyday. “Those rich details, moments and colors that surround me, inspire all of the palettes I build for my client’s homes,” she says. 

Their design philosophy is simple: people should enjoy the environments and they strive to create spaces that give life to the environments and those within them. To create spaces that celebrate the family and community who use them. 

The One Thing Every Home Needs

Combining light, texture and color to make a house a home is important but the one thing, Suzanne feels, every home needs to feel alive are views to the outdoors. “It’s a connection to the celebration of place,” she says, whether that home is a country house, a row house or 90 floors up in a high-rise.

Light and color are hallmarks of their designs, as is Suzanne’s passion for art of the everyday. “Layers of light, texture and color, everything has a sequence in a project that supports another idea or move,” adds Suzanne.

Surrounding ourselves with well-designed spaces can create a supportive and loving atmosphere, according to Suzanne. In their designs, they’re intentional about reducing noise and anxiety. “Too many design moves make people feel anxious,” she adds. She often channels locations that are casual, like parks and nature, where natural light is abundant, citing the calmness about them that she appreciates and tries to incorporate in all of their projects.  

Kitchen Remodel, Evanston, IL. (2019)

Kitchen Remodel, Evanston, IL. (2019)

Master Bathroom, “Lilac” . Expanded the master bathroom, in to the dressing room. Separating the vanity area from the shower/water closet. They used frosted glass doors to maximize the light.

Master Bathroom, “Lilac” . Expanded the master bathroom, in to the dressing room. Separating the vanity area from the shower/water closet. They used frosted glass doors to maximize the light.

Master suite, Evanston IL. A attic in this mid-century modern split level was remodeled. New, larger windows and skylights added.

Master suite, Evanston IL. A attic in this mid-century modern split level was remodeled. New, larger windows and skylights added.

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In their own home, a kitchen project beckons, and perhaps another bathroom to accommodate their children. Suzanne loves their living room the most, where she feels embraced by their art, some of which they created themselves, the warmth of their fireplace, and the comfort of their sofa, situated beneath a window with a beautiful view of their tree-lined street. In their home is also a red oak farmhouse table that the couple bought when they were first married, found as they were walking through a farmers market in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and learned the furniture maker was moving west. It’s moved four times, in every home they’ve lived in from New York to Chicago. These are the types of details, she feels, that make a house a home. 

The Shumaker bungalow.

The Shumaker bungalow.

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Greenwood Beach, Evanston.

Greenwood Beach, Evanston.

When Suzanne and Garry aren’t working with clients, they’re trying to keep up with their two active children. At nine, Nicholas has been playing hockey for five years and Greta, four, is following her brother’s footsteps with her own hockey stick at the rink. During the summer, you can find their family kayaking or paddle boarding at the beach. They call their children artists and teachers and love to nurture their creative minds by taking advantage all Chicago has to offer, from museums to trekking through in the forest preserves. 

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Art Institute, Chicago.

Art Institute, Chicago.

The Importance of Everyday Meals

Garry also loves to cook, admitting he’s always wanted to be part of a restaurant group.“I want to design a restaurant that would allow us to merge the casual elegance of residential design with an inspired cuisine and a public atmosphere,” he shares. One of his favorite memories was while working on a restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, and Suzanne casually mentioned there weren’t any raw bars in Brooklyn. He shared her observation with the owners of the restaurant and, voilà, Park Slope got its first raw bar. As the kitchen was prepping to open, Garry would often stop in to follow-up on the progress of the restaurant and the team would send him home with the most amazing meals as the chefs were testing recipes to include on the menu.

Suzanne grew up in a restaurant and from a very early age her father always found a place in his restaurant for her, whether it was checking hats and coats and acting as a hostess or waiting on tables. Her 12-year involvement in such a large community and establishment would later prove invaluable as she thinks back at how her Swiss father managed a restaurant of 80 employees and still switch to Super Dad in the middle of day between the lunch and dinner rush. Even while studying architecture in college, her biggest breaks came from working at his restaurant. It was during those years she realized she preferred to be on the visual design side of the business, helping to make the experience for those sitting at the table and enjoying their food at a leisurely pace that much more immersive and enjoyable.

Their appreciation for good food and environment ambiance continues today. They’re Sunday brunch regulars at Peckish Pig, a mellow brewpub and restaurant in Evanston, and every Sunday the family welcomes “the uncles,” Suzanne’s twin brother and his husband, for dinner at their home when they’re not eating out.

Sometimes Greta asks “to go to the moon” for dinner, code for Prairie Moon in Evanston, another family favorite. Some Friday nights you might find them at Temperance for a beer after work while their son is at hockey practice. Greta happily joins and enjoys with a cup of chicken noodle soup. When they find themselves sans children, the couple is drawn to the Bar at the Barn for not only its meals but also its interior, which includes gorgeous mill work, lighting and the activity one can observe from the bar.

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Sunday family night.

Sunday family night.

The Importance of Family and Community

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The family loves to travel and the mountains often call them. “We travel with young kids so we love traveling to areas with large amounts of space for our kids can run free,” admits Suzanne. Suzanne holds dual citizenship with Switzerland. And her sister lives there so they take advantage of the mountains whenever they visit. Garry also grew up in the mountains, in West Virginia, Charleston, so trips to Glacier National Park in Montana satisfy their mountain needs while they find the beautiful landscapes at Presque Isle in Wisconsin a more immediate getaway. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are naturally drawn to landscapes with large expansive views and enjoy stepping out of their urban environment to appreciate all nature has to offer.

Presque Isle, Wisconsin.

Presque Isle, Wisconsin.

Montana

Montana

They are regular volunteer fixtures in their community, too. Garry serves on the Development committee, as well as the Master Planning committee at their children’s Montessori school and they are chairing the school benefit together for the second year in a row. Suzanne can often be found volunteering with her camera at hand, from photographing a typical day in a Montessori classroom to the graduation ceremony or shooting fundraising events to benefit St.Baldrick’s Foundation, a non-profit to help children and young adult fight cancer.

Garry also served as the chair of the preservation commission in Evanston for six years. 

Nick as “mystery reader” in Greta’s early childhood class.

Nick as “mystery reader” in Greta’s early childhood class.

Chiaravalle Montessori

Chiaravalle Montessori

The duo holds licenses in the state of New York, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

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Written by: Megy Karydes, Photography by: Suzanne Shumaker