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Pastoral paradise
By Diane Schlindwein

About 40 minutes from Springfield in rural Petersburg, Kevin Purcell and Lucia Meijer call a very special place home. Visitors can't help but be impressed with the house that sits at 17257 Altig Bridge Ave. - but first they have to find it.

A quarter of a mile up a slightly rising, tree-lined, rock driveway sits this gem of a house with a soothing pastoral view. Outside of Purcell and Meijer's home, slate steps and a walk lead to the stone and forest-green Craftsman-influenced home, while a large and attractive barn-red garage sits nearby. 

The home is only a few years old, but its setting is rich in history. "This was all farmland," Purcell says. "At one time, it was a 250-acre farm. We had to put in the drive and remove a lot of scrub trees to build the house and the garage."  

When the couple was ready to design their home, they enlisted the help of architect John Shafer and hired Michael von Behren Builders Inc. as the general contractor. The house features three bedrooms, 31⁄2 baths, a lower-level guest suite, a garden/planting room and a studio complete with a loft, comfy reading nook, kitchenette and extensive shelving.

"We worked with the architect for six months, and then the building process took 14 months, so yes, it was a long time getting finished," Purcell says. "My wife is responsible for the smart, artsy and practical decisions that were made on the house. I'm pretty good with color, so I made those kinds of decisions."

Chapman Stone and Marble Co. supplied and applied the stone exterior. "A stonemason from Ireland hand-chiseled the exterior of the house," Purcell says. "It took them two months to do this. I've had several experts tell me they've never seen stonework that was so perfect."

Well-appointed, inside and out

The home faces southwest, so the majority of its living areas look out over groves of trees and a peaceful meadow where a neighbor's cattle graze. 

"We purposely faced the house that way because of the view," Purcell says. "It is just the way we wanted it."

The home is built to be cozy on winter days, but probably is most enjoyable outside during the warmer months.

"We have 2,500 feet of maintenance-free Brazilian hardwood deck on this house," Purcell says. Additionally, the home features an outdoor fountain and waterfall that add to the tranquility.

"We also really like the screened-in cedar sun porch. We wanted the ceilings to be tall to match the trees. We sit out here and watch the beautiful sunsets. We used Truscene screens on the porch because it is like looking out a window."

When it's time to enjoy meals, Purcell and Meijer take advantage of their well-equipped kitchen and dining room. Like the rest of the house, the area is airy, filled with light and features maple cabinetry and quartz countertops.   

Although indoor pools are rare in central Illinois, the couple decided on one. After researching several brands, they installed a SwimEx exercise pool in a sunny room just off the kitchen. 

"This is really nice in the winter," Purcell says. "The floors are heated, and it's just kind of nice to sit here in the pool and look out at the snow. When the grandkids come, they are in here all the time."

The home's master bedroom is upstairs and features yet another set of doors that leads to a small patio. The master bath is large and luxurious, with a large garden tub and a separate shower.

"This shower is unique because it doesn't have a door - we argued with the architect about that, but he figured it out for us," Purcell says.  

The house, which has nearly 4,140 square feet, is more than he and his wife need, Purcell admits - still, they appreciate the space. Several rooms are empty, sans a rocker or a few spare pieces of furniture. Meijer uses one of the rooms to meditate and Purcell grades papers in another. The lower level is set up as an inviting guest suite. 

However, when family comes to visit, the entire home is put to good use.

"We have the guest area downstairs, which is nice," Purcell says. "My granddaughter really likes to go up in the loft and, of course, our family uses the pool. We don't have dogs, but we've found that when people bring their dogs, they like to run around out on the deck."

Purcell and Meijer have flexible schedules that allow them to spend time taking advantage of the house and entertaining guests. He teaches business classes at University of Illinois Springfield and directs and acts in plays presented by Over the Moon Productions Inc. Meijer is retired, but was a jail administrator in Seattle. 

Lincoln-esque?

Purcell says he was interested in living in Petersburg because he had lived there in the 1980s, residing in a circa-1840 cabin in Old Salem Chautauqua. He is familiar with the area, its history and its people. Paintings by Salisbury artist George Colin - a series that features the four seasons - hang in the living room.   

Outdoors on the couple's 35 acres, nature awaits. Trees are abundant around the property, and Purcell and Meijer have several areas - 12 acres, to be exact - planted as prairie plantings that include grasses and flowers. Because they wanted the vegetation to suit the historic area, the couple worked with Petersburg-area ecologist Jim Nelson.

When Purcell, Meijer and their guests hike around the 35 acres, they just might be following Abraham Lincoln's footsteps. 

"This whole area is called the Illinois River Valley. Concord Creek runs halfway through the property," Purcell says. "Lincoln worked on a farm on Concord Creek, which is just four miles long. Just over the hill is the Ann Rutledge farm - so we know Lincoln visited there. This land has a lot of history, just like the whole area."

These days, visitors to the Purcell/Meijer property might not meet historic figures, but they will come across plenty of wildlife. "Of course, deer live here on the property, and we've seen wild turkey and fox," Purcell says. "You see all kinds of birds, and you can always hear the owls during the milder weather."  

After spending more than four years in their rural Petersburg paradise, Purcell and Meijer are moving to southern Illinois, where they plan to build another home. Their real-estate agent, Ron Peterman of Coldwell Banker Honig-Bell, calls the home a "one-of-a-kind offering" and says, "Words can't describe this special property." 

"Yes, we're doing this again," Purcell chuckles and shakes his head. "Can you believe it?" He says leaving their home will be difficult.

"We're really going to miss this house and the land," he says. "It's really everything we hoped it would be."

 

Story published Friday, July 1, 2011 ( Volume 6, Number 4 )

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