This is an image from the back of the massive Crane Residence (1927) in Ipswich, Massachusetts; I was once married at this great house.


And this half-mile long allee is the view from the top of Castle Hill on the Crane Estate leading to the Atlantic Ocean.  It was a stunning place to hold a wedding!

The architect was David Adler; this was the most ambitious project he ever created – some 59 rooms on 2100 acres — on the Atlantic Ocean.

Over time I have come to learn that I have had a curious but lifelong ‘relationship’ with Adler, even though for over half my life I had no idea who he was, or why he would matter to me.

Recently I had lunch with author Stephen Salny who is an expert on both David Adler, and Adler’s sister the decorator Frances Elkins…..the plot thickened….


While growing up my family often visited my favorite relative who lives in Libertyville, Illinois – and each time we visited, when we were close to my aunt’s house, we drove past a quirky white house with a tower and porte cochere. It is not a grand home but it has a lot of personality.

Decades later I learned that it was David Adler’s weekend home for 30 years, where he, as many architects and designers do, continually changed his home.  Today the property is the David Adler Music & Arts Center with plans to restore the home and formal garden.

Growing up we lived in two communities that are very close to one of the most scenic, historical, and architecturally significant suburbs of Chicago: Lake Forest, Illinois.

Even as a child the ivy covered stone walls, majestic trees and the many grand homes of this affluent ‘village’ caught my attention. David Adler is perhaps best known for the many fine homes he designed in Lake Forest, a number of which overlook Lake Michigan. Seeing images of the houses brings back my early memories of that special community.




My family eventually moved to a suburb on Lake Michigan just North of Milwaukee, with some wonderful homes overlooking the lake. I visited a museum ‘downtown’ called Villa Terrace when I was living still in high school (more to see the house than the collection, I’ll admit.)

This quietly grand home presents modestly from the front, but sits on a hill overlooking Lake Michigan. Like all of Adler’s homes it is highly refined and rich in all ways: the gardens make for a very dramatic landscape experience leading down to the lake. Originally known as ‘Sopra Mare’ and finished in 1923, it is designed in the style of a 16th century Northern Italian villa, ultimately becoming  Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum in 1966 when the family of the original owners gave it to the city.


Photo: Tony Soluri

Photo: Tony Soluri

Many years later I was invited to Chicago by some prospective clients to see a remarkable duplex penthouse apartment overlooking Lake Michigan in a very fine building. While touring the apartment I learned that it had originally been designed by David Adler – an architect I had never heard of….


The project looked very promising so I started my research the next day at the Art Institute of Chicago where the David Adler Archives are housed. THIS was the moment when I started to discover who David Adler is!


It was fascinating to see drawings and notes about this apartment and other projects. The work was often grand, ostensibly traditional albeit somewhat eclectic, and many of the homes were in Lake Forest, a place that was very familiar to me. I noticed references to Adler’s house in Libertyville, which was, coincidentally, my destination the very next day to visit my favorite aunt.

With the address in hand my aunt and I went to find the house. We discovered that the house we were looking for was the curious white house near the road that I had seen dozens of times from a car window growing up – this was David Adler’s country house! It was a thrill to experience seeing this eclectic house through more educated eyes and to begin to see how the Adler dots connected.

Unfortunately my prospective clients did not purchase the apartment, however years later I learn that a friend, Chicago based architect Scott Himmel, had had the opportunity to design the interior of this apartment for the people who did buy it..

Photo credit: Tony Soluri



country-houses-david-adlerIt wasn’t until 2001 that the rich history of David Adler’s architectural work was more widely available – most notably in  The Country Houses of David Adler by Stephen Salny. This intensely researched book uses historical photos so readers can see the houses as they were intended.

As noted on the cover of the book, many of the interiors were decorated by Frances Elkins – David Adler’s sister  – another name I wasn’t very familiar with…..





Adler was a traditionalist who loved the finest architecture of the past, following precedents with skill and infinite care while creating his own signature approach to design. His work, however, was always refined and discreet. His sister Frances Elkins on the other hand was often more modern and adventuresome in her work.

Salny’s next book was a monograph on Adler’s sister who was an interior decorator from Monterey California; Frances Elkins – Interior Design.  I remember voraciously looking through this newly released book trying to make sense of the diverse projects….


Just a few days later I left for San Francisco on a trip with national arts group. On the second day we traveled to see the homes of a number of major art collectors – the first stop was a home originally built in 1937 for James Zellerbach. Upon entering my jaw dropped – this was one of the major homes featured in Salny’s book on Frances Elkins!

Photo: Fred Lyon

Photo: Fred Lyon




SolnyThe story continues…I recently made a date for lunch with Baltimore-based author Stephen Salny having no idea what to expect.

In the course of an engaging three hour lunch I learned a lot about David Adler, Frances Elkins and of course Stephen Salny. He is curious, a highly motivated and tenacious researcher and an impassioned raconteur who does not mince his words. I have a new friend.


I haven’t lived in the midwest in a very long time, so it is unlikely that I will stumble upon any other Adler homes ‘accidentally’ – but I will certainly continue to refer to my treasured books on Adler and Elkins.

 Stephen Salny has has written two other very fine books Michael Taylor Interior Design  and William Hodgins Interiors. They would both make excellent additions to a well-rounded design library.