When one thinks of Geneva, one generally thinks of stately, old-fashioned Victorians, bungalows, Georgians and other traditional homes. But back in the late 1980s, one woman purchased a suddenly available lot several blocks west of the downtown shopping district and built a modern home that so beautifully blended into its surroundings, people often miss it when driving by.
The 2,481-square-foot home with its 1,660-square-foot unfinished basement is not at all small, but it is so carefully tucked away among the trees on its narrow corner lot that it appears smaller than it actually is.
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Located at the corner of South and Seventh streets at 420 S. Seventh St., the lot was originally known as lot 10 of Block 85 on Geneva's original zoning map. At some point the Chicago and North Western Railroad took it over and used the lot as part of the spur track that ran from the main line in Geneva to industrial properties in Geneva and St. Charles.
When the railroad abandoned the 60-foot-wide spur in 1983, the land was offered for sale and a real estate attorney purchased it. He eventually sold this portion of his purchase to Jamie Daniel, owner of Miscella Real Estate, who immediately worked with a local architect to design a home for the narrow space.
It wasn't easy to make it all work, recalls Edward J. Duffy, the partner in charge of design at the architectural firm of Prisco/Duffy, based in Batavia and then Naperville. But he and Daniel prevailed since large setbacks were only required on the south and east sides because it was a corner lot with, in effect, two front yards.
"The challenge was to create a soft-looking home that would not overwhelm the location," Duffy said. "So we ended up making much of it a play on rectangles and triangles, using trellises on the outside to support the growth of vines to make it further blend into the trees."
The two-toned gray cedar home features a flat, vertically sided second floor above a first floor accented by framed rectangular siding that progresses to vine-supporting latticework in front of the two-and-a-half-car garage and also on the southeast corner of the home, where South and Seventh Streets meet. There are steep rooflines that lead away from the front facade and the latticework also covers the chimney in the rear of the house.
"The result is a home that most people don't notice because it blends so well into its surroundings, which is a victory for an architect," said Duffy, the University of Notre Dame-trained architect who, along with his Prisco/Duffy associates, is also known for designing St. Peter Catholic Church in Geneva, St. Patrick's Mission Church in St. Charles and the original Kane County jail.
The exception to that is the imposing arched entryway with a Palladian window above the antique front doors that were salvaged by master craftsman Daniel Otto from an 1860s house in Elburn.
Once inside the home, you have entered an amazingly light and airy space where the open latticework from the exterior, this time painted white, is used to frame the central open-tread staircase leading to both the large unfinished basement and to the second floor with its two bedrooms and full bath.
Daniel said she got the idea for the latticework-framed staircase from an edition of Southern Living magazine. Duffy took the idea and ran with it, both inside and out.
The main floor features a spacious great room with a cathedral ceiling and an understated marble fireplace, an angular study with windows and lots of work space; a large, airy kitchen with eating area; a master-bedroom suite with vaulted ceiling, and a roomy dining room that opens onto a very private, rear-facing terrace.
"We wanted to make the house a play on angles and geometric shapes, as I mentioned, and Jamie had lots of large interesting objects that she wanted to display. So we created 4-foot deep display ledges in interesting shapes above the eaves in both the great room and master bedroom so she could display interesting historic and art objects," Duffy said.
"The deep overhangs were meant to keep the summer sun out of the house, primarily, but then we found a use for the corresponding space on the inside," he added.
There are also fascinating niches for books, televisions and hidden away storage everywhere you look.
Throughout the home, the aim was to define the space, not divide it, Duffy says. So it has a very open floor plan that lends itself to myriad uses. The home also combines soaring, showcase spaces with intimate nook-like spaces filled with bookcases.
And there are interesting uses of windows. In the first-floor study and the bedroom/loft area above it, for instance, Duffy cut off the traditional corners by placing the windows at an angle instead and then outside, the corner is squared off with vine-supporting trelliswork, allowing those inside a long view of the lushly planted yard and shielding them from the traffic outdoors.
The upper guest-bedroom suite even had a sitting area that could be converted to another bedroom. In addition, there is ample attic space adjoining the room in case someone wanted to add a large bathroom to create an upstairs master suite in addition to the one on the first floor.
This spacious, unique and very adaptable home near the heart of Geneva is listed for $464,000. For more information, call listing agent Patricia Rambo at (630) 399-1572.