Jacque Foust remembers heading up the driveway, searching the landscape for the house his real estate agent had promised to show him.
Finally, they reached the glassed entry to a futuristic-looking dwelling built into a hillside.
“I’d never seen anything like it before,” said Foust of the 1970s earth-sheltered home in River Falls, Wis. “I liked it right off the bat because it was different — and so quiet.”
Foust relished the tranquility because he was moving from Chicago, where had he lived in a high-rise building surrounded by traffic noise and sirens.
He bought the house in 1984. It had been built in 1972 by Pat Clark and Emogene Nelson, two University of Wisconsin River Falls professors, from a design by Stillwater architect Michael McGuire.
“They were very creative and wanted to experiment with new housing,” McGuire recalled.
The energy crisis of the 1970s that led to sky-high oil prices had sparked homeowners, such as Clark and Nelson, to explore energy-efficient and economical earth-sheltered dwellings.
“It was a time when people were concerned about conserving fuel,” said Foust.
The Clark-Nelson multi-level home is 2,236 square feet and composed of two arched steel shells set in concrete, connected by a hallway and a series of steps. Hardened spray-foam insulation covers the interior walls.
The home boasts two private bedroom suites — each with a bathroom and spacious sitting room warmed by a wood-burning fireplace.
The kitchen is retro ‘70s mahogany cabinets and butcher-block countertops. French doors draw light into the big arched-ceilinged living room, which also has a fireplace.
The floor is made of aggregate concrete in living-kitchen-dining areas, and the bedrooms are carpeted. And you won’t need to bring much furniture — each space has built-in benches, closets and cabinets, and even headboards for the beds.
On the outside, the roof and walls are blanketed with several feet of soil and wild grasses, with three odd-looking chimneys protruding out of the hill.
The first time that Foust walked in, he expected it to be dark inside. “It never feels like you’re under the earth because of the glass walls on the ends and big skylights in every room,” he said.
What about snow in the winter covering the skylights? “The heat off the house melts it,” he said, noting that his utility bills are low because of the home’s thick insulation.
The hidden retreat sits on 3 acres covered with oak trees, just a half mile from the River Falls city limits.
Foust, a retired UW-River Falls professor, has decided to sell because he lives in Florida part-time, and also has a home in Stockholm, Wis. “It’s more than I can take of,” he said.
“Everybody calls it the hobbit house,” said Dale Antiel, the Edina Realty agent who has the listing. However, Foust is not fond of that whimsical moniker for his home.
“It’s been recognized in Smithsonian magazine and articles as architecturally significant and pioneering in its day,” he said.
Dale Antiel of Edina Realty, 715-222-2913, has the listing.