By Peg Carmack Short - Photography by Kristine Wolff
After growing up on Chicago's North Shore, Peter and Kathy Wilson spent their first 24 years of married life in a succession of charming suburban homes. But six years ago, they decided to trade in manicured lawns, fast food restaurants, and neon signs for 11 peaceful acres of rolling meadows and a charming 1845 farmhouse with a barn.

Picturesque in its placement high atop a ridge, the Wilson's home might best be described as a gentleman farm. Peter and Kathy don't work the land, but their property is presently home to eight dogs, nine cats, and numerous sheep. "We've both always loved animals," explains Kathy. And the Bull Valley home also offered the perfect spot for indulging their passion-breeding Irish Wolfhounds. "We've been breeding them for the last twenty years," she says, adding, "We love our dogs. They're our children.

" As perfect as the property appeared, the couple knew they wanted to add their own stamp of charm to the rural acres. So with some help from architects and landscape designers, they began personalizing the plot with trees, shrubs, and fences-and even a little stone house for the geese. "We wanted the stone house to look like an authentic spring house--one that has always been here," says Peter.

In keeping with the old-fashioned feel, Kathy asked for white picket fences," Built in a style similar to those the couple remembered from a visit to Colonial Williamsburg. "We loved the look and never quite forgot it," explains Kathy.

And the home does exude a certain colonial charm now thanks to the addition of the more than 400 feet of fencing; not added just for appearance, Peter is quick to point out. "We needed a way to keep the animals separated," he says, referring to their menagerie of dogs, sheep, and geese.

With the exterior rejuvenated, Kathy turned her attention to the interior, and began a room-by-room transformation that pays tribute to the couple's pastoral interest. A careful collector, Kathy is drawn to objects that celebrate her love for animals-especially dogs. Irish Wolfhounds grace everything from paintings to a folk art fire screen. Staffordshire dogs stand sentry atop a fireplace mantel and terriers pop up on pillows, footstools, and paintings that were gathered on trips here and abroad. Birds, bunnies, and an assortment of flora and fauna also grace plates, painted furniture, and various wall hangings. All are tastefully combined and artfully arranged by Kathy, who admits her penchant for interior design.

For in addition to her knack for personalizing her home, Kathy also knew just what she wanted-a casually elegant home filled with bold color and vibrant florals that would also remind her of her second love-gardening. To help her pull this look together, Kathy turned to designer Lynne Wickham, of Wickham Interiors in Crystal Lake.

"Kathy's not afraid of color and she has a real sense of fun," says Wickham, referring to Kathy's love for whimsical accessories. "But she also wanted authenticity, so we stayed primarily with French and English period pieces."

Each room's décor started with a fabric or textile that Kathy adored. For instance, Kathy fell in love with a cream and red floral from Clarence House that Wickham used in the master bedroom for the comforter, tester, and window treatments. A complementary rose plaid from Brunschwig & Fils was soon chosen for a dust-ruffled and chaise, and the room's cheery tone was firmly established. New reproduction pieces lend all the upholsteries the elegance of timeless style, while the chaise from Peter's grandmother and a chair from Kathy's grandmother bring just the right reminders of family when placed fetchingly round the room's fireplace (one of four in the home).

The bedroom, now one of Kathy's favorite spots, also holds one of her dearest treasures-an engraving purchased at Harrod's in London, entitled "Naughty Dog." "It features a cute little terrier, who looks very guilty!" explains Kathy, whose sense of humor often shines in playful accessories such as this one.

If her finishing touches reveal her sense of humor, Kathy's love for fabrics dotted with delectable old-fashioned flowers hints at her romantic disposition. Not surprising, then, that the living room, with its flower-strewn surfaces, is her second favorite hideaway.

Peter, meanwhile, prefers the deeper palette and the more traditional look of the library. Here, a backdrop of cream, emerald green, and ruby red compliments a stately, reproduction Dickens desk, designed by Heckman.

Both of these favored retreats take their decorating cues from vibrant splashes of color. "I love color. It makes me feel good," enthuses Kathy. Not prone to overdo, however, she is careful to offset her deep hues with plenty of white and softer variations of the shades, going from red to rose and royal blue to cerulean.

In the living room, a 1920s Persian rug that warms the oak floors and establishes the red, white, and blue color scheme. Though nearly of an age to classify as "antique," the rug had never been used. "It was found in the inventory of a well-known Chicago store after the owner's death," explains Kathy.

With a grand piano and a pair of love seats pulled intimately around a coffee table at the other, the 25-by-18 foot space seems downright cozy . . . and warm. A north-facing wall of windows brightens the room and offers captivating views of the garden below where hollyhocks, sweet William, phlox, Virginia blue bells, and forget-me-nots flourish.

Throughout the country home, great attention has been paid to detail. But nowhere is this more evident than in the renovated kitchen by Barrington designer, Helen Lundstrom. One of the smaller rooms in the home, the 13-by-13 foot kitchen still boasts plenty of storage and workspace thanks to Lundstrom's careful planning and ingenuity.

"I do love beautiful details," admits Kathy. And certainly, decorative embellishments abound in her kitchen-from the glass-fronted cabinet doors with patterned mullions to the fruit-accented American tiles that dot the countertops.

Ample display areas above cabinets or in the many tiny vertical built-in shelves also provide interest and serve to show off a show medley of collectibles, including Kathy's rooster collection and her favorite Flow Blue china.

Just off the kitchen lies a sunny breakfast room that was once an enclosed side porch. Maintaining the spirit of the 1840s farmhouse, the room now provides the prefect backdrop for the couple's collection of vintage pieces combined with period reproductions. A new armoire from Habersham Plantation, for instance, marries happily with a vintage drop-leaf table, a gift from Peter's family.

"I love the character of this piece," says Kathy raising the drop-leaf to reveal a burn mark from an old-fashioned iron. Not one to wax poetic about the sentiment of time-worn antiques, Kathy's pleasure is nonetheless evident in the tone of her voice as she points out pieces handed down through Peter's family and her own.

Here, as in other parts of her home, a nature theme prevails. A faux-painted chair features a garden scene and weathered kitchen chairs feature a hummingbird motif.

Both inside and out, the Wilson's home sings with the joy of peaceful country living and a love for creatures great and small. "There's nothing I would rather do than spend a quiet day in my garden, taking time out to feed the sheep or play with our dogs," says Kathy. "Now when we go back to visit in the suburbs, we think it's nice, but so crowded. We breathe a sigh of relief when we get back home."

Articles included here are copyrighted by Peg Carmack Short and may not be copied in full or part without written permission of the author.

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