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  • Kim Piekos

Lake Forest’s Atelier Preserves Renaissance Art Technique Inside Architectural Gem

By Kim Piekos

Nancy Smith sits before her five-foot-wide painting, paintbrush in hand steadied by a mahl stick, focused on every stroke she makes. Her studio, flooded with light in The Atelier at 830 Green Bay Road, is one of her happy places.

“I love the fact that we are exposing people to this 15th-century painting method, Technique Mixte, in this historic David Adler home in Lake Forest,” Smith explains. “It preserves the heritage of the art form in a home that is a work of art itself.”

Smith, along with her husband, Adrian -- architect of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and Chicago’s Trump International Hotel, among other notable buildings -- purchased the home in 2017. Left vacant for 17 years and in disrepair, the Smiths spearheaded an extensive renovation of the property, not to reside in, but to use as an art studio and community gathering space.

“The Smiths have linked Adrian’s love for architectural design, his deep appreciation of David Adler homes, Nancy’s love of this painting technique and their joint desire to create a space for the community to gather, create and enjoy art and discuss important issues of the day,” said The Atelier’s resident master painter and teacher Hector Hernandez.

The more than 17,000-square-foot French Normandy home, located on four acres across the street from West Park, was originally known as Innisfail II. Built in 1928, it was previously home to Joseph Cudahy, president of Cudahy Packing Company and Sinclair Refining Company, and his wife Jean Morton Cudahy, as well as W. Clement Stone, an insurance tycoon.

Both Nancy and Hernandez were students at separate times of master painter Patrick Betaudier, founder of The Atelier Neo Medici in Montflanquin, a 12th-century town in southwest France. Betaudier taught them Technique Mixte, the same method used by Raphael and da Vinci, among other Renaissance painters. Using a mix of egg tempera and oil, this indirect painting method involves layering transparent colors and allowing each layer to dry for days. As each layer of paint is built up, light penetrates the color and bounces back, illuminating it. Paintings can take months to complete.

“This is slow art that requires the artist to contemplate every aspect of the painting as he or she tries to create something important and meaningful,” explained Hernandez, originally from Chicago’s southwest suburbs and a graduate of the American Academy of Art in Chicago.

Nancy, pointing out the technique requires attention to detail and patience, agrees.

“Once I get started on a painting, I’m very disciplined with how I approach it,” she explained. “Patrick taught his students to sit at the canvas before them, to contemplate and to pray before beginning the painting. I still do that.”

Both Nancy and Hernandez remain enamored with and grateful to Betaudier, originally from Trinidad, for his teaching.

“The only word I’ve found to describe Patrick is ‘sprezzatura,’ an Italian word that means ‘effortless effort,’” said Hernandez. “He carried an elegance, intelligence and artistic ability that elevated everything he touched in life.” Betaudier passed away in 2008.

Hernandez credits Betaudier with preserving Technique Mixte as the international art world turned its eyes to modernism after both world wars.

“There was a backlash in the art world towards tradition as people were disillusioned with everything,” he explained. “People looked at tradition not as a steppingstone to improvement but as a burden that slows down progress. Patrick rescued the technique from obscurity, as it isn’t taught in art schools anymore.”

A Lake Forest resident since 1987, Nancy believes Lake Forest is the perfect place for The Atelier.

“This town is very Old World, filled with many educated, well-traveled, interesting and interested people,” she said.

Like Nancy, Adrian Smith is also an accomplished painter, preferring abstract art while Nancy focuses on realism.

“Abstract art can be cathartic, where one can get lost and found in the process of creating art,” Hernandez explained. “For Adrian, he can create without limits, quite a different experience for him than designing buildings that require adherence to restrictions.”

In addition to the art classes offered at The Atelier, the home has served as a venue for special events, including benefits and photo shoots. Organizations interested in holding events at the home as well as students interested in the painting classes can contact Hernandez at

The Smiths are enjoying watching their vision for The Atelier come to life.

“I think we’re still at the beginning,” said Nancy. “What a wonderful journey!”


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