Last week I wrote about some of the houses you can find amidst northwest Indiana’s hot housing market. So if we’re going a bit afield of Chicago, why not Wisconsin? It’s also a hot market, but there are bargains—like the lucky buyer who got a lakefront lot for $230,000, plus the cost to demolish the Racine house that’s about to fall into Lake Michigan. It doesn’t get quite the attention that the Region does from Chicagoans looking for second homes or a slower pace, perhaps because its rocky shores compare unfavorably to those in Indiana and Michigan (unless you’re talking Door County, which does draw from Chicago).
But Racine and Kenosha are no less part of greater Chicagoland than the Region, at least according to the Census Bureau, which puts them in the Chicago metropolitan statistical area. And the housing stock might seem a bit more familiar: well-preserved grand old houses of the kind you might find on the North Shore, but with the density of an older Chicago suburb like Oak Park or Riverside. Alternately, you can get a newer-build log mansion with an observatory, that you’re probably not going to find in the Chicago ‘burbs.
Salem, Wisconsin, is a bit of a ways west, towards the Dells—and if you like the feeling of a Dells resort so much you want one of your own, this 2009 home is for you. It’s got an observatory as its special draw, 60 acres for winter sports, great rooms on each level, and even an indoor pool in a sunny two-story addition that feels like a hotel pool. It’s a lot of space—almost 5,000 square feet with three bedrooms and four bathrooms, meaning a lot of entertaining space—but it’s geothermally heated for the Wisconsin winter.
Just across the street from Lake Michigan—with a Frank Lloyd Wright house as a neighbor—is this six bed, five bath, 6,000+ square foot neoclassical home. It was built in 1896 for Charles K. Carpenter, cashier of the Commercial Savings Bank, and it’s now nestled into Racine’s historic district. Inside it’s been beautifully maintained in a modern style appropriate to its bones, save for a couple bathrooms that at least stand to show how awry things could have gone. Bay windows look off into the lake, as do its two huge porches. And for socializing on those porches, there’s a big wine cellar.
If you’d prefer Kenosha, this 1925 Allendale Tudor is similarly rich in history and close to the lake. It’s big, too: five beds, four baths, over 5,600 square feet. The iron entry door leads you into a castle-like entry with a bit of a Mediterranean air (that has been carried into one of the bathrooms to unfortunate affect—you’ll want to do something about that painted toilet and sink so the furnishings rise to the level of the lovely tile). There are some misses with recent renovations that don’t mesh with the nicely preserved living areas, but those give you something strong to work off of—stucco in warm colors, iron railings and crosshatched windows, and a good stout stone fireplace.
Also in the Racine historic district, at a big discount for being a bit smaller and a bit further from the lake, is this 1878 Italianate home, built for Thomas Jones, an officer at a lumber firm. It still has five beds and 4.5 over more than 5,000 square feet, and it’s arguably more stylishly updated for today. The rooms are subtle but rich, with gentle but elaborate wallpapers and details that allow centerpieces like the carved fireplaces, gilded mirrors, and exquisite chandeliers to shine. It’s a lot, but not overwhelming: big, thoughtful, and tasteful for under $500,000.
Finally: your own estate on the lake, a 1926 Tudor with lake views from the bedrooms, patio, backyard, and, down a set of steps, a big wooden deck right on the water. That lake view is of a rocky shore, but what a view. Inside you’ll find opulent details: a stained glass Pan overlooking Main Street from the three-story central stair, an arched ceiling in the formal dining room, arched beams at the top of the main stair, decorative ceramic tile in the family room—which also has a fountain. Newer renovations add some modern amenities, like an open-plan kitchen with, again, extensive lake views, as well as hardwood flooring worthy of the house’s heritage.