Jen Hinkle describes her Racine home in a variety of ways.
She calls it midcentury modern, a home on three levels, and one that’s done in a post and beam construction.
She also calls it “the perfect Nerf house,” because of its open concept design.
“Our 12-year-old son, and our daughter when she was young, would hold Nerf battles from each level of the house. They can shoot from the upstairs into the downstairs because everything is all open,” she said.
Hinkle, who bought the house with her husband, Ken, said it’s also a home with some interesting history.
Located in the Racine County village of Elmwood Park, it was built by Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architect Hans Geyer, and its kitchen was once used in a Johnson Wax trade advertisement.
That kitchen is no longer there, as a previous owner updated it. And now it’s being redone again.
“It wasn’t done well. The floor is cracking, and it doesn’t represent the design of a midcentury modern kitchen,” Hinkle said.
Other areas of the home are original, and fortunately have needed few repairs.
Their home, and four others, will be featured on Preservation Racine’s Tour of Historic Places on Sept. 26.
Hinkle said all the homes on the tour are unique.
When you enter her home, you walk into the living room, and that’s the only room on that level, she said. That room has a wall of windows that overlook a lake. Staircases to the right of the front door go up and down.
On the upper level there’s the master bedroom, a shared bathroom and a second bedroom. The lower level has a kitchen, eating area, dining room and the third bedroom.
Fascinated by midcentury modern
Hinkle said she and her husband purchased the approximately 2,000-square-foot home that was built in 1958 or 1959 about 10 years ago. She works in experiential marketing; he is an elementary school teacher.
While it’s a style they both love, they still call it an “accidental purchase.”
“Back in the day when my father was younger he lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright house in California. I’ve always been fascinated with the architecture of midcentury modern homes. When my husband and I would go on vacation, we try to see architecturally interesting homes and businesses. We love touring homes by Frank Lloyd Wright and some of the homes by Richard Joseph Neutra, who built homes mainly in southern California and was considered to be among the most prominent and important modernist architects.
“When we found our home, we weren’t really looking for a home. When we met, Ken lived in a bungalow-style home in Racine, and I lived in an ’80s tract-style home in Caledonia. We moved into his bungalow, and not very long after we said, ‘Let’s go look at homes just to see what was out there.’ And we fell in love with two homes that were on the market.”
In addition to their current home, they also liked a home in Racine built by Milwaukee architect John Randal McDonald.
“Two homes in the same architectural style rarely go up for sale together in the same area, and we had a hard time trying to decide what house to buy,” she said.
To come to a decision, they had a friend look at both houses.
“She pretty much told us we would be silly if we didn’t buy this house,” as it required less work, she said.
“The other one had roof issues as it had a flat roof, which is common in this style of home. But homes with flat roofs are a headache. This home has a slightly angled roof. It also sits on 1.3 acres overlooking a small spring-fed private lake.”
The inside of the home was also a plus.
“When you walk into a Frank Lloyd Wright-style home, the entryways have low ceilings, so that when you walk farther into the home you don’t realize how big it is. This house has a covered walkway before you enter the house that gives that same compressed feeling. That was kind of a wow factor.
“The house is also full of windows. We have 40 windows. There are also lots of built-in cabinets in the upper level, and the bathrooms are still original. They still have the same fun midcentury designs. And we have a built-in jukebox in the wall of our dining room.”
They also liked the neighborhood and its architecture.
“It’s a very small village. Elmwood Park has about 200 homes. It’s more of a garden kind of community where everybody takes care of their yards, and everybody knows everybody. We have annual yard sales and Christmas parties. It’s a tight-knit community.”
She said the area also has homes in a variety architectural styles, as well as other homes built by Hans Geyer.
Another plus was that little work had to be done to the home.
“We just did basic cosmetic stuff. Basic wear and tear stuff. We did repaint the exterior a few years back. The house was all tan, and we painted it in tones of red, gray and yellow. We also painted some of the interior rooms. Most of the open spaces are a neutral white. We did some painting in the bathrooms and we painted our son’s room. Nothing too crazy.”
While they didn’t have big jobs to do initially, their kitchen renovation will be major.
“That will be the big one. It’s in the process of being done. We’re gutting it. We’re working on a tight timeline, but we plan to have it done by the tour.
“We’ll keep the same floor plan, but put in a large island. It’s a U-shaped kitchen. We will remove the peninsulas and make that into an island.
“We are trying to make it more modern, but keep some midcentury elements. For example, terrazzo floors were real popular in midcentury homes, so we are going with a tile that looks like terrazzo. We are also adding modern cabinets in a gray tone to bring out the blonde wood in the rest of the house,” she said.
She recently talked about her home and the upcoming tour.
Question. What’s the biggest challenge when making changes in your home?
Answer: How to match what’s been here for over 50 years.
Q. Do you think you would have kept the home’s original kitchen had it been here?
A: I’m not sure. Maybe with some updates.
Q. What kind of countertops will you add?
A: It’s a new product. The brand is Silestone, the line is Sunlit Days and the color is Arcilla Red. It’s a blend of quartz and recycled glass.
Q. What other colors will you use in your kitchen?
A: We are going to be taking some of the color elements from our fireplace. There are tan, gray and blonde tones.
Q. Can you describe your fireplace?
A: The fireplace is really what holds this house up; it’s a two-level fireplace. There is one on the lower level and one on the main level. It’s pretty much the center of the home. It’s gas and wood burning.
Q. Do you use it a lot?
A: Yes. Mainly the one in the lower level off the kitchen. And mostly in winter.
Q. How did you furnish your home?
A: In a minimalist style. Some pieces we purchased were based on the era, but there is also a mix of what I had and what my husband had. We did get a white tulip table for the dining room. It came with four matching chairs. We found it on Craigslist. I don’t think the sellers knew what they had.
Q. Do you have any family pieces in your home?
A: When my grandma passed away I inherited a small Japanese table and a statue of a geisha that I have on top of it. She got both of them from her brother when he was stationed in Japan.
Q. You have unique artwork. Can you tell me about a favorite piece?
A: We like art. My husband is a painter. He loves abstract artwork and there is some of that in the house. We have a piece that is done in two parts and it looks like two big circles. We haven’t peeled the frame back yet, but we believe it’s a Verner Panton textile. We bought it from a private seller. I don’t think he knew what he had, or he wasn’t into the style. Panton was a Danish artist from 1926 to 1998.
Q. Can you describe your bathrooms?
A: The one upstairs has yellow tiles and also white tiles with yellow and gray midcentury accenting. The sink and toilet are also original and are in a grayish blue. The other bathroom has darker peach tiles and white tiles with peach-colored midcentury accents, and the sink and toilet are a peach color.
Q. How high are your ceilings?
A. Some areas are really high. The lowest is about eight feet, but they go to over 24 feet high because of the roof angles.
Q: Any other great things about this house?
A: In winter the way the home is designed the sun beats through the back windows. The back of the house faces south, so in winter it gets really warm in here to the point where we don’t have to turn on the heat. It’s designed very well from that standpoint. In summer, the sun doesn’t reflect in the back. It goes over the house. We don’t have that same kind of heat in the summer months.
Q: Have you done any landscaping?
A: We haven’t done anything to the gardens. We don’t know what to do because it’s so large.
Q: Any projects yet to do?
A. Ken recently started pulling some exterior boards down to fix some rotted areas on the house and we found out the exterior is redwood. Over the next year we plan to sand it down to the wood and stain it so the natural wood is exposed. It is beautiful.
Q: Any unique features in the bedrooms?
A: The bedroom on the lower level has two walk-in closets. One is large enough that it’s used as a computer room. Our bedroom has built-in drawers.
Q: What’s your favorite place in the house?
A: The bedroom, because I love waking up to the view of the lake every morning.
Q: Do you enjoy much time at or on the lake?
A: No. But the kids and their friends will go out there fishing all day long. But I do like being near the water. We have a small seasonal place in the Dells right on the Wisconsin River, and we spend a lot of our summer weekends there.
Q: Where do you spend the most time in your house?
A: In my office. It’s a screened off area at the back of the house in the living room. But our two cats, rescues Peanut and Coconut, spend all their time at the window off the eating area on the lower level. It’s their TV. They will sit there day and night looking at the wildlife. The chipmunks will come up to the window and harass them. In addition to being the perfect Nerf house, it’s also the perfect cathouse.
If you go
What: Preservation Racine’s Tour of Historic Places: Modern Beauty. Tour five historic homes plus additional historic or architecturally interesting locations in the Elmwood Park village, which was once rural farmland and had quarries. Sponsored by Preservation Racine, Inc.
When: Noon to 5:30 p.m. Sept. 26.
Tickets: $15 in advance and $18 day of the tour. See a list of ticket outlets in Racine and Sturtevant on the website under the calendar. Day of tour tickets will be available near the Taylor Orphanage Monument, which is at 3131 Taylor Ave. A limited number of tickets will also be available at the homes on the tour. Money earned goes to support historic building, preservation and education.
More information: Call (262) 634-5748 or see preservationracine.org.