In recent years, the farmhouse aesthetic has dominated everything from HGTV home renovation shows to new construction in hip Chicago neighborhoods. You’ve likely seen the look: white plank siding, a steep roof gable, and posh-yet-rustic interiors that prioritize comfort and coziness over sleek, contemporary styling.
Meanwhile, out in suburban Batavia, a rare example of a pre-Civil War era Italianate farmhouse is up for grabs for $630,000 after a decade-long restoration, marrying architectural authenticity with modern comforts.
Constructed in 1854, the house was built as the Midwest was still being settled — as points of reference, the state of Illinois was admitted to the Union at the end of 1818, while the city of Chicago was officially incorporated in 1837. Structural details nod to the home’s age: ornamental roof eaves, a welcoming wraparound porch, and a staggered setback design which facilitates ventilation (something that was solved in dense Chicago with street-facing bay windows).
Another important clue to the home’s origins can be seen in keystones located above the exterior window frames, says owner Bill Huber, a photographer and longtime member of the Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley.
“The story goes that this home was turned over during a high-noon poker game,” Huber says. “The person who won the house in the poker game put the previous owner's initials — ‘H’ for Hulburt — and spades in a keystone above the window.”
While Huber acknowledges that the story may or may not be an urban legend, the homeowner does have dozens of pages of other documentation on the home’s history, design, and building materials, thanks to a 59-page report on the house for the Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley.
But the 2,800-square-foot, five-bedroom home is not trapped in amber. KoenigRubloff Realty Group agent Joe Champagne says it’s both the oldest and most renovated home he’s ever listed, and the marketing sheet is the most in-depth his team has done for an individual property. The roof and copper-lined gutters have been replaced, the home boasts all-new cedar siding, and all major interior mechanicals, such as plumbing and electrical, have been updated.
Huber says that architectural integrity was top of mind when taking on the much-needed updates. Interior finishes were refreshed, not replaced. The original staircase and flooring have been sanded and refinished by hand, and subsequent renovations recreated missing pieces, such as the fireplace and mantle on the first floor. As for the kitchen, Huber opened up the floor plan, repurposing a vintage buffet to be used as the stovetop.
There are countless details to discover, Huber says, adding to the home’s staying power. In fact, as the remodeling process was getting wrapped up, HGTV reached out about featuring the property for an episode of its If Walls Could Talk… program. (Unfortunately, according to Huber, the house wasn’t pieced back together enough for the producers.) But still, the home makes a great venue for entertaining and hosting friends — something that Huber has done plenty.
With his son having recently left to attend college, Huber says he’s ready to move on to his next project. This time, he’s on the lookout for a mid-century modern home in need of a polishing.