BELLEVILLE, Ill. — You’d pass it by in one quick glance and think nothing of it. What sits indiscriminately on top of a Belleville hill lies the envy of many local architect fans — a house designed by Charles E. King.
King, a midcentury modern architect, designed more than a hundred buildings in Belleville during his time there from 1947 to 1961. In 1991, Architectural Digest named him to its list of “Top 100 Architects in America.”
Dennis Mares says he first saw the house on the market in 2012. He and his wife debated getting the house then but decided not to because it needed so much work.
Then, two years ago he saw the house for sale online again.
“I made my wife crazy with it the first time when it came out on the market in 2012,” Mares says. “The second time I wondered, ‘Should I even tell her?’ But she was like, ‘go get it,’ and we did.”
Mares, his wife, Emily, and their 6-year-old son, Jack, previously lived in Fairview Heights and St. Louis city but are new to Belleville.
“We’ve lived in midcentury modern houses before, but not as cool as this one,” Dennis Mares says.
The King home features an open design; the kitchen, living and dining rooms blend together into one big space. A characteristically King-style wall of windows faces outward to the backyard where a newly constructed deck (built by Mares) wraps around the expanse of a saltwater pool.
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Many of King’s designs have flat roofs, fireplaces, large cathedral-like ceilings and open spaces, according to Margaret Meyer of the Belleville Historical Society.
There are certain aspects of King’s designs, but there are no two alike, Meyer says.
The Belleville Historical Society began a search in 2012 for every King house in Belleville. They’ve found 70 houses so far, four in the past year.
“My friends always talk about how it’s an Easter egg hunt — I’m always out there looking,” Meyer says.
Meyer and the Belleville Historical Society will host a midcentury modern house tour on Oct. 27.
King began his work in Belleville after he married the daughter of a local businessman, Audrey Nash. King designed homes for her relatives and business associates of her father.
Mares’ home was built for William Huxel and his wife in 1955. Huxel owned a brickyard in East St. Louis. A brick path outside leads to the front door. Other than where Mares laid carpet, brick makes up the majority of the flooring in the house.
King built clusters of houses on the east and west ends of Belleville. The homes at the east end mostly lie in subdivisions.
“They blend into the style of the area, but when you walk through the door of the house, you know it’s not just a contractor house,” Meyer says.
Mares’ home lies between the edge of a forest and a dead-end street. He says the style of the house reminds him of his upbringing.
Mares was born and raised in Maastricht, a city on the southern tip of the Netherlands.
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His home has one level with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The house features a finished basement with a bar similar to ones in other King houses. When guests walk through the door, they’re immediately met with a large chandelier overhanging stairs to the basement and backyard.
In addition to the outside deck that Mares constructed himself, he also built a playhouse for his son.
Although Mares had to make several refurbishments, he says the house had good bones. One of the reasons Mares says he likes his house is because it looks more European than American. This house feels different from all the others he’s lived in in the United States.
“I love this house,” Mares said. “I think I’ve lived in about 15 houses in the last 20 years, but I’m not moving from here.”