Grass Roots

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Diane Pascal and Thomas Richie escape from Chicago in a retreat with low-profile getaway in Hennepin, Illinois, a town where agriculture and ecology are still a part of the locals’ common knowledge. Richie, a freelance advertising creative director, and Pascal, the development officer for an organiza-tion serving homeless people, maintain a sense of humor about their city-slickerdom.

Their X House is filled with the trappings of a modern metropolitan existence—a red retro kitchen clock, a Fireorb in the living room, concrete bedroom floors. Inside and out, though, the home manages to disappear into the rural landscape, thanks to considered treatment of the building’s proportions.

The home is situated on 14 acres of Midwestern prairie and woodland, where the ambient noise sounds like a new-age relaxation CD: chirping birds, light wind, buzzing insects, and a babbling creek.

The walls of the house spread out to create panoramic views of woodlands to the south and prairie to the north, like a pair of frameless landscape paintings. Knotty pine, chosen for its graphic quality, covers the room from floor to ceiling, with the orientation of the slats modeled on the property’s topographic lines. It lends the space the feeling of a roomy sauna, though substantial airflow keeps it cool.

The master bedroom and bathroom sit on one side of the house, while a guest wing, which comprises a bedroom and bathroom, plus a small office/living area, occupies the other. These zones are radically different from the main room, resembling modern urban apartments.

The kitchen is open, simple, and small. It’s mostly functional, with a few clever touches, such as an extra-tall stainless steel backsplash and a random polka-dot arrangement of compact fluorescent lamp bulbs on the ceiling.

The couple, who admit little prior knowledge of country living, are learning as they go. A Putnam County High School teacher brings kids from FFA (an agricultural education organization founded as Future Farmers of America) to get some hands-on science education by maintaining 1.5 acres that have been restored into a natural prairie habitat. They worked with a forester to develop a land management plan for 12 acres of forest, placing it under the Federal Conservation Reserve Program.

The couple knows that increased foot traffic would benefit local business, they nevertheless hope that other city dwellers will be slow to discover the town they treasure as their own little secret.

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