House tour: Home by famed architect Charles King brings outdoors in

News-DemocratMay 9, 2013 

When you enter a Charles Erwin King house, you bring the outside with you.

That's just how the world-class architect, who practiced in Belleville from 1949 to 1961, planned it.

A perfect example is the Mid-Century Modern home he designed in 1958 for Frank and Dorothy Skinner on a wooded site at 25 High Forest Drive in Belleville. Andy and Kathy Bridgeman own the home now.

It will be one of six King-designed homes on a Belleville Historical Society house tour from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday in Belleville.

"Charles King was big into giving the sense that the house grew from the site," said Larry Betz, president of the Historical Society, leading visitors through the house last week. "He tried to bring the outdoors in and extend the indoors out."

The flat roof of the white brick home is nearly level with the street. It nestles into a valley lush with trees and plants. King's special touches fill the home.

* Inside the front door is a wall of six floor-to-ceiling windows offering a view of the front yard.

"It's called a light box, one of his favorite techniques," Betz said. "It gives the sensation that you are living in nature.

* Light from the entry spills into the living room, which had more glass on the opposite wall, a sunken fireplace nook, brick walls and vintage furniture.

"King opened up spaces throughout the house using clean lines, walls you can see through. He also used as many natural materials as possible."

The sunken fireplace is a carryover of the inglenook, Betz explained. It's an intimate area by the fireplace that was popular from about 1885 to 1920.

"The brick walls inside again blur the line of outdoors and indoors, while glass walls open up the spaces."

Leather and chrome chairs in the living room fit the Mid-Century Modern theme.

"Can you guess when these chairs were made?" Betz said. "They were designed in 1929 for the World's Fair in Barcelona. They have been a classic ever since."

* The adjoining dining room is flanked by honeycomb walls and another glass wall, and opens into an elongated, updated kitchen with an island breafast bar.

"Even the updates were done in the spirit of King," Betz said. Diners have their choice of views -- the patio and woods in back or the family room through the honeycomb wall.

Dark wood floors run throughout the home. A staircase off the master bedroom leads to a few small kids rooms on the lower level.

* Three wooden steps lead to the centerpiece of the home -- the family room. Its huge walls of windows offer panoramic views of the woods and the three-tiered patio and deck in back.

"Of course, you couldn't have all this glass if you had close neighbors all around," Betz said. "King always took the site into consideration, basically making the outdoors an extension of the indoor space.

"Notice the beams on the inside extend beyond the glass wall and over the outdoors seating area on the patio in back," Betz said. "I was in here once when it snowed. It was like you were outside in the snow. Snowflakes coming down all around you. Just beautiful."

A carpet with large, multicolored polka-dots and comfortable furniture add to the family-friendly feel of the room.

* An aggregate patio stretches across the entire back of the house and a large raised deck offers an even better view of the wooded gully.

An impressive glassed-in "island room" across the patio was not part of the original design, but it fits the King philosophy.

It's one of Andy Bridgeman's favorite places "just to go to relax, enjoy the view and smoke a cigar."

The owners were drawn to the home "because if feels like you are in nature and it's very comfortable," Andy said.

"For us, it's a privilege to own one of Charles King's houses. We love history, and we want to be good stewards of this piece of Belleville history."

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