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COMFORT ZONE | Smart Designs for Pleasure and Planet

Green Design Blooms in a Rust Belt City

By Mary Louise Schumacher

"I am an outdoor person," Vera Scekic says. "I am even more attuned to the subtle changes between one season and another because the house is so transparent."

Vera Scekic and Robert Osborne gave their twin daughters, Sofia and Jasmina, the best bedroom in their new house, the room with a terrace overlooking Lake Michigan. The 11-year-old girls will have to share it at least into their teen years, when one might downsize to the far smaller guest bedroom. And the family of four shares one bathroom on the upstairs floor. None of this was a misstep in planning. Scekic and Osborne set out to build a contained and communal home in Racine, Wisconsin.

We designed it this way because we knew that this is all the space we need," Scekic says of the bluff-top house, one of the first LEED Platinum residences in the upper Midwest. Bound by walls of glass offering views of the lake and the city, the modernist house is by no means tiny, at 1,940 square feet, but it's 20 percent smaller than the average new house built in the United States in 2010.

"A home with this much glass in Wisconsin can't be at the highest level of efficiency," Robert Osborne says. "But it performs pretty well."

The separation between indoors and out blurs, especially in the main living area, where the kitchen, dining space, and living room meet. "You end up blending all of the things you're doing," Scekic says. "It's a more engaged way of living among four people." A room they call "the observatory," a snug cube girded in wood that juts up and out of the structure, has the best views and space for a coveted reading chair that the family shares in turns.

The glassy home, which has brightly colored rectangular shapes on the exterior, contrasts with its colonial, Victorian, Tudor, and ranch-style neighbors in Racine, a former industrial city that is also home to Frank Lloyd Wright's modernist Johnson Wax headquarters from 1939. Drivers often inch along the family's short, dead-end street to gawk. Some of the neighbors find the building to be a jarring departure, according to the couple. "I wonder if they realize we can see them too," says Scekic.

The green features—which include geothermal heating and cooling, solar roof laminates, and rainwater harvesting—came at a price. The cost for the home's in-fill lot plus construction topped $1.2 million, well above market value for the region. But that's not the point, Osborne says. "We plan to live here for the rest of our lives."

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