Hiking, canoeing, campfire sing-alongs – generations of Boy Scouts visited these 25 wooded acres on a glacial lake in Wisconsin. But one day in the 1980s Camp Delavan, named for the lake on which it sits, closed, then was divvied up and sold off. Besides a few moldering buildings and a landscape slowly being overgrown, all that was left were the memories of the boys who had spent time there.
The Litowitz family takes to the pool.
Until 2005, that is, when Jennifer Litowitz happened upon a real estate ad. She and her husband, Alec, the founder of Magnetar Capital, had harbored a fantasy of creating a bucolic getaway for friends and family, including the couple’s four sons, Jack, Luke, Nick, and Jude, now ages 12 to 20.
Seeing the ad rekindled that dream. So they strapped baby Jude into his car seat, rounded up the other boys, and drove an hour-and-a-half north to check it out. “This is it, this is it!” Jennifer remembers thinking. “But Alec was somewhat less enthusiastic. It was in rough shape – really, really rough.”
Even so, they took the plunge. Luckily, having recently completed their main residence – a Lutyens-inspired manse in suburban Glencoe, Illinois – they already had a great design team in place: architect R. Michael Graham and designer Bruce Fox.
Jennifer was determined to salvage as much of the camp’s charm as possible. Everyone adored the huge dining hall, where a massive stone fireplace rose nearly 20 feet. Unfortunately, that whole building was structurally unsound and would have to be taken down, then rebuilt. But not before they salvaged the hearthstones, wall boards, beams, and trusses that gave the space such personality. They performed a similar feat in the building that once housed the camp’s crafts studio. After it was enlarged to make a poolside game house, they reinstalled the wall planks covered with decades of carved initials and graffiti by the Scouts.
I had this idea of a Midwestern hodgepodge that transcends time periods.
“Jennifer’s directive was ‘I want it to feel like Wisconsin in the 1940s,’ ” recalls Fox. “One of my inspirations was a childhood memory of going to family lodges in northern Michigan in the summer,” says Jennifer. “I had this idea of a Midwestern hodgepodge that transcends time periods, a very comfortable aesthetic.”
Take the old dining hall, now reconstructed as the great room, for example. At 64 feet long by 38 feet wide, it’s the kind of space that can eat up furniture and still feel empty. So Fox imagined a room that might have been put together over several generations, where interesting vintage pieces sit alongside the new. “Everything had to feel like it was found, but also be comfortable for life today,” he declares.
At one end, an eclectic mix of seating is organized around the fireplace. (“I definitely wanted a big fire circle,” says Jennifer.) At the other sits a pair of dining tables that when pushed together can seat up to 30 (not a rare occurrence in this house). To keep the surrounding squadron of chairs from creating the feeling of a conference table, Fox rhythmically upholstered them in a mix of complementary fabrics.