The New Traditionalists

Peter and Carrie Connor give traditional style a modern spin in their Lake of the Isles home.

  • Photo by Craig Bares
    Carrie and Peter Connor with their children William, 8, and Emma, 5, in their traditional living room that’s accented by modern art, including the Todd Norsten installation above.
  • Photo by Craig Bares
    The dining room, which stretches back to a sunroom, is full of light and character mostly because the couple insisted on keeping the original windows.
  • Photo by Craig Bares
    A sample of hickory herringbone with a custom finish from Nicolet Hardwoods.
  • Photo by Craig Bares
    The foyer is framed with a pair of silk chairs and antique sconces.
  • Photo by Craig Bares
    The Connors kept their original cabinets and added a four-inch thick white pine-topped island to anchor the room.
  • Photo by Craig Bares
    Emma twirls in the home’s original entryway.
  • Photo by Craig Bares
    Hanging in the two-story formal foyer is the dramatic Ikea Ps Maskros pendant.
  • Photo by Craig Bares
    Original tiles had been hidden beneath carpet.

The air of formality inside the Connor family’s castle-like home is intentional. Attire includes ascot ties and Manolo pumps. The children don tartan and own couture, as Carrie is a buyer for Oscar de la Renta. Morning espresso is served in Juliska cups and saucers. And the interior is full of traditional touches such as lath and plaster walls and a formal salon-style living room. But along with the classic look comes a strong reminder to embrace the old but also bend the rules. The Connors accent their utmost traditional furnishings with modern art and design.

Their Lake of the Isles home was built in 1928 and had only four other owners before they moved in. However, with the exception of tile work, fireplace moldings, and the original wavy windows, much of the home had been altered and deformalized over the decades.

“It was super ’70s,” Peter says, “with drop ceilings, track lighting, and carpet everywhere—even in the kitchen.”

Eager to bring back as much of the original character as possible, the couple began by refinishing the hardwood floors. Fortunately Peter happens to oversee WD Flooring and Nicolet Hardwoods, family businesses dating back to the late 1800s. They own and manage 40,000 acres of forest in Wisconsin and offer hardwoods and specialty wood finishes to clients all over the country from St. Paul to San Francisco, including the Four Seasons Hotel, which recently requested a rare gray driftwood finish.

“It’s all about customization,” Peter says. “That side of the business has changed more in the last five years than in the last 100.”

Peter points out a sample of Hickory herringbone in a specialty gray finish and says, “Take something rustic, flip it, and give it form and structure.” This style of rethinking and personalizing kept him afloat in a business that has become more and more about volume, and it helped the family focus on what would be best for their own home.

After refinishing the existing flooring, they added new tiger maple in the kitchen and opted for a traditional finish among hundreds of choices. “You don’t always want it blinged out in your face—it’s just a floor,” Peter says. As for the cabinets, they chose to keep the original set, dressing them up in high gloss paint and new hardware.

“Sometimes new is great, like a new toilet or a new bathroom, that’s great!” says Carrie. But throughout their remodel they pushed back when contractors wanted to replace original cabinets and windows, maintaining their mantra that everything didn't have to change.

“Why have we gotten in this stage where original is bad?” asks Peter. With that in mind, they kept original highlights wherever possible, including a wall of windows overlooking the lake that draws incredible light in the dining room. The home is luxurious in a well-lived way, meaning not all bathrooms are updated, some doors still stick, and the walls, while new, feel aged. These elements along with their flooring, tile, and wrought iron in the entry lend the home a magical transporting air, especially in the entryway, which feels straight out of Great Expectations.

To top it off they’ve dressed the home in creamy, neutral furnishings, offset by modern fixtures and artwork they’ve collected over the years, including an installation by local artist Todd Norsten. With the words “Endless Boundless Joy” mounted to their formal living room wall, anything seems possible for these new traditionalists.


Connor Family Favorites

  • Dining: Lucia’s, The Kenwood, The Harriet Brasserie, and La Belle Vie lounge for old Cubans and foie gras
  • Weekend: The “Calhoun Trifecta:” Punch Pizza, Noodles, and the Yogurt Lab plus ice skating or biking Lake of the Isles
  • Art: Highpoint Center for Printmaking and Midway Contemporary Art annual auction
  • Vacation: Portugal, Careyes, Northern Wisconsin
  • Nightstand: Ulysses for Peter and Vanity Fair for Carrie
  • Playlist: Trip Shakespeare, New Standards, Black Keys, Rihanna, Django Django, The Current 89.3
  • Workout: Moksha Hot Yoga, Kula Yoga, Life Time Fitness, Lake of the Isles
  • Kids Clothes: Carrie is a sales director and her sister-in-law is a designer for Oscar de La Renta. Her spring picks are the classic sailor dress and the navy trapeze dress.