Betty Jones had never even heard of Charles E. King when she bought one of the homes he designed in Belleville. The former Chicago woman fell in love with its open floor plan and walls of windows that brought nature into almost every room.
That was 11 years ago. Today, Betty is a huge King fan and member of an unofficial fraternity of people who own King homes.
“People who live in Charles King houses are very excited to meet other people who own Charles King houses,” she said. “They’re all different, but there’s always an underlying commonality.”
King was a well-known architect who designed more than 130 homes, additions and public and commercial buildings in the St. Louis area from 1947 to 1961, when he practiced in Belleville. Architectural Digest magazine named him one of the Top 100 architects in America in 1991.
“We’ve identified about 70 (King designs) in Belleville, but I know there are more because we keep finding them,” said Margaret Meyer, Charles King adviser to Belleville Historical Society. “There was no master list.”
King specialized in contemporary style, now known as “mid-century modern,” which has seen a nationwide surge in popularity recently. That’s also the theme of a BHS architecture tour on Sunday. Betty’s home at 8221 W. Main St. is one of seven stops.
The tour loosely commemorates King’s 100th birthday on Oct. 10, although it also features designs of architects Edward Kane and William Flippo. It’s a fundraiser for the Midcentury Modern Architecture Museum in Belleville.
Hidden along a main drag
Betty’s brick, wood and glass home was built in 1950 on a sunken lot and nestled in woods, making it barely visible from West Main Street when trees are full of leaves.
King designed the home for Bill Farthing, a Belleville attorney, and his wife, Minette.
“(King and his wife, Audrey) were friends with the Farthings, and we were here quite a bit,” said their son, James King, 75, retired executive vice president of Marsh Co., who has homes in Telluride, Colorado, and Shiloh. “They were involved in the same sports-car club. My father was one of the founders with Oliver Dee Joseph and a couple of other people.”
Decades later, after Bill died and Minette moved out, the Farthing home fell into disrepair. In the mid-2000s, it was bought at auction by Lowell lsom, who renovates properties as a side business.
At that time, Betty was working in community relations for a Chicago mental-health center with no plans to buy a home in Southern Illinois. Her daughter, Nancy Holm, took her to see the Farthing home.
“She said, ‘Mom, I want to show you this house. It’s so cool,’” Betty recalls. “A friend of hers (Lowell) was flipping it. It was in kind of rough shape, but he fixed it up. When I saw it, I just bought it. That’s it. I know it sounds crazy, but that’s what I did.”
Betty rented out the home for two years before retiring and moving to Belleville. Now she’s close to Nancy, her husband, Matt, and their five children, who live in Millstadt.
Betty met Minette several years ago during another house tour. Minette told her that King often asked prospective clients to meet him at the Farthing home so he could show it off.
Eclectic furniture and art
The Farthing home has about 2,000 square feet of living space on two levels. Betty describes the shape as “rectangular with a dog leg.”
Inside, the centerpiece is a great room on the upper level with a kitchen on one end and a fireplace, two walls of windows and access to a balcony on the other. The home also has two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a lower-level family room with a deck. Most rooms have exposed brick walls and walls of windows.
Betty is a thrift-shop enthusiast who has decorated with a mix of furniture styles, artwork, collectibles and plants. One of her new pieces is a large, arc-shaped floor lamp made of brushed silver with a marble base.
“(The decor is) eclectic,” Betty said. “It has the feeling of mid-century modern, but it’s things I like.”
A notable feature of the home’s exterior is that bricks are stacked evenly, not staggered. King broke from tradition to create a more modern look.
Inside, he exposed steel ceiling beams and installed radiant heat.
“(Radiant heat) was something he put in many of his homes,” son James said. “It’s pretty efficient, and you eliminate all that ductwork that blows the heating and air conditioning.”
Passion for architecture
Charles King is architectural royalty in Belleville. Perhaps his most famous structure is Belleville City Hall, built in 1957 at 101 S. Illinois St.
King also designed the Blazier home at 6 Oak Knoll Place, formerly 8501 W. Main St. It was completed in 1953 as a private residence and more recently housed a church and funeral home before being converted into the Midcentury Modern Architecture Museum, operated by Belleville Historical Society.
One of the museum’s exhibits is a King retrospective that James helped compile with BHS President Larry Betz. James’s only sibling, sister Jane Ellen, died of pneumonia in 1954.
“(King’s) architecture was fairly well-recognized back in period, and he generated a lot of business,” James said. “He was very, very busy back then. He worked long hours. He loved what he did.”
James remembers his father coming home from work each day, watching a couple TV shows, drinking a martini, eating dinner, then returning to his office to put in a few more hours.
“I don’t think he considered it work in the traditional sense,” James said. “It was a passion. By 1960, he had the largest architectural practice south of Chicago.”
The Mid-Century Modern Architecture Tour will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets cost $20 in advance at Fletcher’s Kitchen & Tap, Peace by Piece Co., Circa Boutique or www.bellevillehistoricalsociety.org; or $25 on Sunday at the Midcentury Modern Architecture Museum.