It is hard to miss the Osborne-Scekic house. Among the century-old homes of the Historic District with their brick, columns and wide porches, the modern grayish cube stands out.
Vera Scekic and Robert Osborne know what comments were passed along third- or fourth-hand. But what they see in their home at 1761 Main St. is a structure that adds to the architectural heritage of Racine.
"Our whole argument about this is that yes, this is a very contemporary home. It is a 21st century home," Scekic said. "And Racine is very fortunate to have an enormous collection of homes, you know, examples of architectural styles from the 1850s all the way up to the 21st century."
"Even just within this block, which is kind of a microcosm, you see this Tudor, and then you see the 21st century green home, and then you see the '50s ranch."
"It's one of the really interesting things about Main Street Racine is that it has examples of everything," Osborne added.
"You have this eclectic collection of homes, and for me personally I think that's what makes the Historic District interesting," Scekic said.
Even the square frames on the home's exterior, painted bright red and yellow, are a part of that heritage, Scekic said. They are an homage to the bright colors of the Victorian homes known as painted ladies, but an homage done in brighter colors.
The exterior is a combination of cedar and cement board, and although it is easiest to describe the home as a cube it is really a combination of rectangular boxes. The cubic image comes from the decks at opposite corners on the front and rear and which are defined by flexible aluminum rods.
But it is the rest of the home, the parts that are invisible or almost invisible, that make it a very modern home in a different sense.
It is built to LEED Platinum standards. LEED is the set of standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council.
What that means in practical terms for the Osborne-Scekic house is a building that uses as few resources as possible.
Many of the technologies used in the house are so simple, and not new at all.
Rain barrels collect runoff from the roof, and spigots let the water be used for garden plants.
Heating and cooling are provided by a heat pump connected to four vertical wells that descend more than 200 feet. Insulation beneath the basement floor stops cold from seeping in that way.
The home is designed with cross ventilation to take advantage of lake breezes.
Hot water comes from a solar panel in back augmented by a gas heater.
A photovoltaic panel next to the solar panel produces electricity as does the roof, which is covered in a new roofing material that incorporates a thin photovoltaic coating. The home draws electricity from the common power grid as needed and sells its surplus. So far, Osborne said, the balance has been in their favor with the largest payment about $70.
A rear terrace of paving bricks, and a system to channel more roof runoff into the ground allows water to soak into the earth rather than being directed into Lake Michigan just a few dozen feet down the hill.
Materials came mostly from the United States and the contractors who built the home were primarily from Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee. The architectural firm the couple hired was also from Milwaukee.
Johnsen Schmaling designed the types of homes they were interested in, Osborne said, something that went beyond prairie style. An added advantage, Scekic said, was that modeled their ideas in cardboard so there was no need to look at a computer-generated drawing and try to imagine the three-dimensional finished home.
(In April the home also won Johnsen Schmaling an award from the Wisconsin society of the American Institute of Architects.)
Another aspect of making the home low-impact is its lack of size. It is about 1,900 square feet.
Their family-which includes twin 10-year-old girls-found that they simply do not need expansive space, Scekic said. If you have a large house, you have to clean all that space even if you're not using it, and more space encourages the accumulation of possessions, she said.
"This is the bathroom for all three bedrooms," she said. The room has a toilet, a tub, and separate shower of standard size. "We share, including guests."
There is another bathroom in the house, but it has only a toilet and shower. The girls will share a bedroom.
Racine was the natural choice for a home for Scekic, 43, and Osborne, 45. Scekic grew up here. Her mother still lives here, and she, her husband, and their children spend a significant amount of time here. She also maintains a studio in Racine where she produces the artwork that she shows in Chicago.
Osborne is from Philadelphia, and they met at Stanford University, but then came to the Midwest.
"I really like old industrial Midwest cities," Scekic said. There are old buildings, discarded buildings, and layers of history on which people are building anew. "It's almost like this archaeology of American development."
For a few years they lived on the north side of Chicago near Lincoln Park. Then they moved to Evanston. And their lives will still be linked to Chicago. For Scekic the link is art, for Osborne it is his job as a manager in a company that a develops financial software. Another advantage of their location, she said, is that the Metra station is 15 minutes away.
July marked the third year of the house project. Only within the last two weeks did the final worker come in to make the final adjustments.
Within a year, once their daughters finish elementary school, Racine will become the family's permanent home.