Home and Lifestyle

The romance of restoration

Husband and wife team revive the past, one historic home at a time

McHenry County Magazine

Michael and Patricia Breseman of Prairie Grove are best known for their historical restorations on the North Shore, particularly of estates built by noteworthy architects, such as David Adler and H.T. Lindeberg.

The husband and wife team – Mike Breseman is principal at Michael E. Breseman Architects Ltd. and Trish Breseman is the designer – also are standouts in custom home design. They utilize traditional styles, such as English Manor or French Country, throughout the Chicago area, including Prairie Grove, where they’ve raised five children, who range in age from 8 to 21.

Their historical restorations have helped solidify their reputation as a top-notch Chicago-area firm, Mike Breseman says.

But it’s taken a lot of work to get to where they’re at today.

“Could I have done a Kersey Coates Reed house right away?” he asks, referencing one of Adler’s more significant structures. “No, I didn’t understand it. But after working on my own, and after 20 years, I was ready for the challenge.”

“[Now], I’ve worked on David Adler, worked on Lindeberg. Some of these architects, if you work on enough of them, you start to understand the vocabulary they’re working with,” he adds. “It’s just a matter of having the experience.”

The Bresemans, who have been married for more than 20 years, gained much of their experience by touring Europe. It was overseas that Mike Breseman learned why certain materials and proportions made architectural styles work, and where Trish Breseman learned how traditional elements could be combined with the clean, crisp looks of modern design.

Together, their philosophy is to renovate and build for the 21st century with the vocabulary of early 20th century architects.

“You have to let your ego go [and think], ‘What would that architect do now if he was going to renovate the house now?’” Mike Breseman says.

Many of the North Shore homes the Bresemans have redesigned are prominent old estates, with servants’ quarters and other outdated, albeit striking, features.

“That’s not how people live today,” Mike Breseman says. “These might be museum pieces, but they need to be practical.”

The couple has taken those servants’ quarters and turned them into guest suites or new kitchens, providing better function for a modern family, but with details that complement the home’s original features.

“We’ve been blessed … to walk these homes and document them and photograph them,” Mike Breseman says. “Little by little, you start to understand the genius that was there.”

Working together

Mike Breseman grew up in the construction business. His father was a general contractor on the near west side of Chicago, and at the age of 8, he started moving bricks for 25 cents an hour.

Though the Illinois Institute of Technology graduate had always loved old homes and traditional architecture, the first firm he worked for solidified his enthusiasm for renovating older homes. Located in Evanston, the firm specialized in high-end residential work, where $300,000- to $500,000-additions to homes of varying architectural styles were the norm.

“I got a taste of doing high-end [renovations] and being thoughtful and trying to understand the house and [using] materials that were matching, so whatever you were going to add would be complementary and sympathetic to the original structure,” he says.

His early work eventually led to the historic restorations he has become known for. By 1993, he had opened his own firm, and, since then, he has worked on six David Adler houses alone, including the famed Kersey Coates Reed residence.

Trish Breseman, meanwhile, started her business career in fashion merchandising. After the couple had a second child, she decided to stay home to raise their children.

It wasn’t long, however, before Mike Breseman ran across a client who needed an interior designer. He persuaded his wife to take on the project – arguing that her strong background in fashion, good eye for color and innate sense of design made up for her lack of a design degree – and the couple has worked together ever since.

“My style and the style of homes that he’s doing mesh together well,” she says. “We feed off each other.

Finding balance

Though historical renovations might seem to headline the work of Michael E. Breseman Architects Ltd., the majority of the Bresemans’ work remains in custom builds and projects, big and small.

They continue to meld their European travel influences with their historical renovation experiences to create traditional-style homes that, once landscaped, look as though they’ve been in place for 100 years, Mike Breseman says.

“We try to combine all those good things from the past, bring them back, but make the homes, if they’re new, with the functionality – [using] great rooms and [other] spaces – that are required for families today,” Mike Breseman says.

Whether it’s a small custom garage or a historic home worth $25 million, there’s only one requirement to work with the Bresemans.

“The constant for us and our clients [is], do they care about design? Because no project is too small,” Mike Breseman says. “We are a small boutique firm that caters to the individual and their families.”

To that point, the Bresemans continue to work out of their Italianate farmhouse, the very first house Mike Breseman ever designed.

“We try to build relationships,” he says. “It’s more than just, we’re going to do the work and give you a great house and great interior. We leave a little bit of ourselves in each project and, we hope, a relationship after that.”

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