DeKalb County probably has only one house that resembles a turtle – at least that’s what the 4-year-old son of its owner, Steven Hardman, calls it.
Three years ago, the Hardmans bought what is known as the geodesic dome house on the north edge of Waterman near the corner of West Fuller Street and Waterman Road. The house was built in 1979-80 by Albert “Harley” Johnson and his friend, Loren Monsess. I found it fascinating, driving by it for years. Finally, this January I located Harley’s widow, Carol, then at Heritage Woods in DeKalb. We met and discovered we had lived side by side in rooming houses on Lucinda Avenue while we both were students at NIU.
But before I could get back to her for a follow-up interview, she passed away two weeks ago. I was saddened to learn of her death and reached out to her family to try and resurrect the house’s history. Their son, Dennis, filled me in on what he recalled.
It seems the family vacationed in Minnesota back in the 1980s and saw a dome-shaped house that interested them. They learned it was a prebuilt design that could be bought and shipped anywhere, so they ordered one for a lot they had bought near their McKinley Street home in Waterman. Dennis was only 10 when they began assembling the pieces and constructing it. He recalled Loren helped his father a great deal with the construction. I reached Loren and he provided more details on the project. He said the house’s jigsaw puzzle components were all color coded for ease in assembling, but Harley was color-blind.
It has three levels, and the top floor loft has a window that provides a scenic view. Dennis said he and his two siblings had their bedrooms in the lower level, which is mostly underground. He said their friends asked if their bedrooms were round, but they actually were pie-shaped, made to fit into the circular house design.
He added that not only is the house shape unique, but his mother’s taste in decorating was quite avant-garde as well. Their living room carpet was pink, the master bath had all-white wallpaper with back footprints running up the wall. The shower cabinet was bright red. Plus, the ceramic floor tiles had little hearts in them.
Going online to see the art studio website Dennis has designed, I can tell he inherited some artistic talent from his mother. His works include art created with acrylic paint on canvas and some on repurposed wood. Other creations are on solid metal plates, topped with plexiglass. The drawings are done with charcoal and graphite.
Getting back to the house – they sold it in 1996 and moved to DeKalb. It went through three owners, and now the Hardmans live there with their two young children. Steve Hardman said the basement level needs remodeling, and they plan to once again make it into bedrooms for their two children. In case you wonder about the cupola on the top of the house – you cannot stick your head in it to look out – it has a built-in fan to circulate air.
I wish I had gone to see it two years ago when they were part of the Waterman House Walk and a large number of curious local residents toured it. If you really let your imagination take hold, the breezeway could be the turtle’s neck and the attached garage could be its head. But it needs a tail and I am not sure the Hardmans want to go that far ...