November 29, 2023

For Elsah homeowner, it’s all about the views | Home & Garden

8 min read
For Elsah homeowner, it’s all about the views | Home & Garden

Returning to St. Louis from Florida to watch the total eclipse of the sun on Aug. 21, 2017, Barbara Clark decided to take a ride through the Missouri and Illinois countryside she had always enjoyed. Included was a drive along the Great River Road near Alton, and up the hill through the tiny village of Elsah.

“I was not looking for a house when I saw the for-sale sign and the owners outside getting into their car,” she recalls. “The husband said I could not see it without an appointment, but the wife let me inside, and I bought it.

At home with artists Barbara Clark, in Elsah, Ill., on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. Video by Daniel Shular, [email protected]

“I have lived in a lot of nice homes in many cities, but none ever had a special location like this,” Clark says talking about the spectacular, 180-degree view of the Mississippi River. “After living here and enjoying the setting, I would select a home based on the location and not the home itself. I love historic homes and rivers.”

However, that is not to say her residence is not special on its own. “I am happiest when I am tearing something apart and rebuilding it,” she says, and that is what she has done in the 1883 home.

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A 7-inch slant in the floor from the front door to the back of the home had developed over the home’s 130-plus years and was the first thing to be corrected.

Next, a steel beam was added to the back of the living room, allowing the space to be extended out 10 feet. The extension also allowed for a dining room to be added off the kitchen and for a 40-foot window wall installed across the back of the home providing an unobstructed view of the Mississippi River and the parade of passing boats.

Kitchen cabinets were rebuilt by a local cabinet maker in 2019 and hand-painted. “I do not like the look of something spray painted,” she says. New countertops were added, along with a deck to enjoy the river view outdoors. Marble floor tiles from Florida were repurposed as wall tile in updated bathrooms. A downstairs closet off a bedroom was converted to a laundry/utility room by taking space from a bedroom closet.

At Home with Barbara Clark

The stairway to the second floor passes a tropical floral painting on the wall to the right that Clark painted. At the top of the stairs is a sculpture purchased from the Venice Café in downtown St. Louis. The artist is Tony Duquette.

She has filled the home with art, much of it her own and done in several mediums. On the first floor six colorful acrylic framed paintings of orchids brighten one wall, and several of her photographs are framed and hung nearby. In the entry hall her watercolor of an old doorknob decorates a wall. “I describe all my art as ‘hyper-realistic,’” she says noting she likes to paint realistic images in a close perspective.

Currently she is working on a 3-foot-by-4-foot painting of tropical plants that is so realistic it resembles a photograph. Nearby is an outdoor scene done in pastels.

A large photo album in her office contains a remarkable series of realistic Trompe-l’œil artwork she was commissioned to paint for different residences and businesses. The art technique uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion, which depicts objects in three dimensions, although painted on a flat surface.

While Clark loves living a quiet life in Elsah in the village she describes as “the town time forgot,” she also enjoys the convenience of the metropolitan St. Louis area. “I am only 35 minutes from the airport and 45 minutes from downtown St. Louis,” she remarks.

“I think much of the historic ambiance of Elsah is because we do not have mailboxes lining the streets. We get our mail at the post office up the street,” she says. “Also, the entire village is a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and architectural changes must meet strict guidelines to preserve the character of the village.”

For 25 years the residence had been the Corner Nest Bed and Breakfast. Her intention was to continue to use it as a residence but also list it on Airbnb and rent out the second floor. “When I discovered I could hear the slightest noise upstairs, that lasted only one weekend,” she says. Now one of the upstairs bedrooms has become her home office, and the other an art studio with river views.

Because her two-story home does sit at the very base of the hill on which Elsah is perched, sometimes when the Mississippi overflows the banks, the water enters the residence. “The home was built expecting the basement to flood,” she says. “In 2019 the water did rise a few inches into the first floor. During the Great Flood of 1993 I understand it was almost four feet high in the living room.”

Notwithstanding the inconvenience of a flood every now and again, Clark loves her home and the quaint village. “Where else can you live that has a Fourth of July parade with more people in the parade than are watching along the street?”

At Home with Barbara Clark

Barbara Clark poses for a portrait in front of a painting she is working on in her studio at her home in Elsah, Ill., on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. Photo by Daniel Shular, [email protected]

Occupation • After studying architecture at Washington University, Clark has always been involved in some aspect of the building trades. Currently, she is a construction estimator for contractors in Florida. She works remotely from her home in Elsah using three computer screens and two desks. While living in St. Louis in 1981 before moving to Florida, she started the St. Louis Rehabber Magazine, which became St. Louis Home magazine.

Family • Barbara’s husband of 39 years died in 2016 and is seen in many photos along what she refers to as her “life wall” in a downstairs hallway. “He always encouraged me to be independent,” she says. Together they owned several businesses together, all somehow related to the building trades. She has two cats Red and Violet, and Vici, a vigorous tail-wagging German shepherd puppy.