Before cable television was crammed with home improvement shows, there was the annual LIFE magazine “Dream House” and this premise: “inventive, architect-designed houses needn’t belong only to the rich.”
The series, which ran in the 1990s, is long gone and so is LIFE.
But one of those Dream Houses — the 1995 version — survives in Madison and now, its original owner has put the 3,200-square-foot, 3-floor hillside Cape on the market with an asking price of $1.4 million.
See a photo gallery of the LIFE Dream House in Madison here.
The price tag suggests that, at least today, any buyer will have to have some financial means to purchase the 3-bedroom Hilltop Drive home.
The house’s owner, John R. MacArthur, told me the original Dream House plans he purchased had to be modified substantially so the home could be built into a hillside, and more space was added, driving up building costs. And, he said, the stature of the architect has since grown and neighborhood property values have risen.
MacArthur said the house has lived up to its name, especially the way natural light floods interior spaces. And despite the modifications, the facade with storybook steep-pitched roof and porte cochere to shelter two motor vehicles mirrors illustrations in the magazine.
“There is extraordinary light within the house,” MacArthur told me. “There are quite a few windows, and they are large windows. Even on a snowy day, it’s a very bright, cheery environment.
Now, an emptynester, MacArthur said it was time to put it on the market.
Neither historians at Time, Inc., which now owns the rights to LIFE, nor the architect of the 1995 Dream House know how many examples of the home may have been built. The plans sold for about $500.
MacArthur said he learned of the Dream House plans in 1995 when he and his wife were considering moving from their home on the green in Madison and buying a house on Hilltop that overlooks Fence Creek and the salt marsh.
Unfortunately, the home was a manufactured house with basement and offered, few redesign options. Then, MacArthur’s sister-in-law, a builder, suggested checking out the Dream House plans.
“She said, ‘This house would be really good there, ‘ ” MacArthur told me. “She was only 1000 percent right.”
The original LIFE story said architect Dennis Wedlick was asked to design a house of about 2,100 square feet — the average size of a newly-built house in 1994 — that could be built for the average cost, about $150,000.
Wedlick had just started his own firm in Manhattan, after working for a dozen years with Philip Johnson, the designer of New Caanan’s Glass House, when he landed the LIFE assignment. Since then, his name recognition has grown, now often counted among Architectural Digest’s 100 top U.S. architects and designers.
The MacArthurs purchased the Hilltop property for $180,000 and removed the house. The cost to build the Dream House was about $500,000, and took about seven months to construct, beginning in late November of 1995.
Margaret Muir, a realtor at William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty in Madison, has the listing. The changes included the addition of a den and office on basement level where the original plans had called just for storage. There were material upgrades as well, including custom mouldings.
Despite the higher costs, the timing was right, MacArthur said. The plans were by a young Wedlick, which would now be far more expensive to commission, given his career. And it was also before the Hilltop Drive area had become more upscale with redevelopment, he said.
“We were really lucky,” MacArthur said.
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