By Jessica Else | Photos by Warren Jordan
Gary and Shara Storandt have owned a home on the Lauderdale Lakes for the past 30 years, so when they decided to build a new lake house just four houses down the street from their previous house, they wanted their home to reflect their longevity in the area. With a vision of creating a “new, old lake house” for themselves as well as their children and grandchildren, they finished construction on the 5,000-square-foot home on Mill Lake in May of 2022.
As with their previous lake house, the family plans to spend summers at the new, Mill Lake house. The Storandts also have a home outside of Chicago and spend some of their time in Florida. But in the summertime, the lake house is the center of the family’s activity. “Last weekend we had 17 people for dinner,” Shara said during a recent interview. “The family definitely takes advantage of it [the lake house].”
Four rocking chairs sit on a wide, open front porch that runs along the front of the white home, a nod to the origins of the home’s classic, southern design. When the Storandts were looking for design ideas for their new lake home, they found a strong vision and a set of architectural plans in Southern Living magazine.
Long before having a home here, Shara would visit the lakes after being introduced to them by her aunt and uncle. Back when she first started coming to the lakes, the homes were smaller and designed in a different style than the larger, more modern homes currently being built.
“They’re beautiful homes, but we simply wanted our house to look like it had been built years ago,” Shara says.
To build this dream home, the Storandts worked with Lake Geneva home builder Tom Ajamian, who they had worked with before on additions to their previous lake house. Ajamian introduced the couple to architect Joe Wilburn, who is also headquartered in Lake Geneva, and together they made subtle changes to the floor plans from the magazine. Then, the project started. “It was just fun coming up all the time and seeing the progress they made, Shara says. “And it turned out great.”
The new Storandt lake house has six bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half bathrooms, and sits on half an acre with 65 feet of lake frontage. Compared to the genteel design of the main floor, the lower-level design is more modern and was added after they’d settled on plans for the home. “It wasn’t intended to be a big place, but we found out we could add an English basement, so we did,” Shara said. “It’s a good thing, too, because now we have more bedrooms, all with windows above grade.”
On the main floor, the home has the classic southern charm that Gary and Shara had wanted all along. “We kind of flip-flopped [the architectural design], but we tried to stick to those [Southern Living] plans,” Shara said. “We had the concept all along and kept with the old-style design.”
Inside, a beautifully tiled fireplace complements floor-to-ceiling doors and windows in an open living, dining and kitchen space that offers sweeping views of the lake. The Storandts opted for warm, classic décor and finishes, alongside contemporary appliances and modern amenities, plus a few modern architectural touches. But the focus remained on making the house look like it had been there for a long time. Even the landscaping leading from the lake up to the house was planned to evoke lakeshore nostalgia.
The Storandts explain that, while designing the house was a faster-than- average process, building the house took over a year due to pandemic- related supply and shipping delays, as well as difficulty finding workers. “It was just Tom and two or three others building the house because they had a hard time finding help [during the pandemic] so they could meet their deadlines,” Shara said. “But he was great with bringing in all the subcontractors.”
Once the home was completed, Shara set to decorating and furnishing the entire space, starting from scratch because the couple sold all their furniture with their previous lake house. They left everything in the old house for the new homeowners. So, in addition to poring over paint samples, flooring options and cabinet colors, the Storandts also spent months deciding on couches and tables, bedding and curtains, area rugs and other furniture and décor, and waiting for delivery on many of those items as well.
Shara says that decorating the entire home took a lot of effort, and while it was fun to envision the final result and to choose décor, ultimately she found the process exhausting. “It’s fun to think about what your kitchen is going to look like and things like that, but you also have to pick out 25 light fixtures,” she said. “We were shopping continuously for everything.”
But now, in their second summer in the home, Shara feels she’s found enough décor that reflects a minimalistic, southern-style aesthetic to be able to take a break from decorating while still feeling satisfied with the home. “I don’t know what I call my style — maybe it’s cozy minimalist,” she says.
The primary bedroom is one of her favorite spaces, decorated with an emphasis on functionality, but with a lot of personality from a large piece of art over the bed. On the lake side of the home, the main living space benefits from all the natural light spilling in from every angle throughout the day, creating a warm, uplifting feel in the whole space. “In the morning, it’s spectacular because all of the windows face east and you get to see the whole lake out in front of you,” Shara says.
But the best feature of the house, according to Shara (and the consensus of her family and friends), is the screened porch on the north side of the house. The space has a view of the lake and allows for the feeling of being outside without the annoyance of bugs or risk of sunburn. “No matter the weather, we get a breeze that goes through, and it [the porch] seems to be everybody’s favorite,” Shara says. “And the view of the lake is different even though we just moved a few houses down.”
The Storandts are extremely pleased with the end result of building their new lake home. From water sports and sunbathing to family dinners and summer holiday celebrations, they’ve used the space to relax, bond as a family and enjoy life. “People just show up,” Shara says, describing how her 18-year-old granddaughter turned up at the house recently just because she was bored and looking for something to do for the evening. “It’s fun to have family pop in all the time,” she says. “You just have to have a big table to seat everyone.”