A Blend of Old and New in the Baskerville
Marguerite DeMatties was already living at the Baskerville, in condo 101-N, when a chance meeting at the library changed her life—and the historic building—forever.
“I accidentally stepped on her foot,” says housemate and partner Thomas Geis. “I asked her out for coffee, and the rest is history.”
When condo 106 became available right next door, Geis jumped at the chance to buy it. The idea was to link the two smaller units and turn them into a two-bedroom, two-bathroom downtown haven. With the help of an architect, the couple opened a wall and installed a pocket door and transom window in between. Geis remarks, “We had to move a lot of paper to make it happen but when we did, it was just great.”
The now larger combined unit is nearly a thousand square feet and maintains much of the historic features from the building’s construction in 1913. The black and white checked bathroom tile is original, as are the hardwood floors that creak sometimes underfoot.
“We call it the weight of time,” says DeMatties. “You just feel all the people that have lived here in the last hundred years.”
One of those people is the Baskerville’s most famous resident, Orson Welles, who lived in unit 106-S in 1924.
Both DeMatties and Geis downsized from larger homes, so DeMatties conceived of unique, space-saving additions that maintain the feel and spirit of the Baskerville’s neo-classical design. She converted 101’s triangular-shaped living room into a dining area that overlooks the Capitol. With carpenter John Kohler, she added touches like a dark woodwork cover over an unsightly heating unit and matching painted trim. Next, she commissioned a buffet with space for a heater, wine rack and even a sunken ice bucket. Kohler built a cutting board addition for the redesigned kitchen that fits neatly over the sink. The board extends counter space and includes a carved hole for water to pass through.
Geis’s 106 side was more square, built of right angles that lent itself to a living room. Here, Geis created a focal picture wall with images he found or bought. There’s an old Ukrainian concert poster, graphic and elegant, formerly stuck to a parking lot wall, plus a cartoon from a longtime friend, artist Pete Mueller, and a print comprised of cut-up protest posters from the uprising on the Square.
In the corner is a lamp Geis designed and built out of an industrial space heater and scissor arm, purchased on eBay. “It’s my steampunk reading lamp,” Geis laughs. It’s in this nook, with cat Dexter curled up in the sun, where Geis can usually be found. “I feel very comfortable here. The geometry of the room just appeals to me.”
Both Geis and DeMatties love the access to city life. But in the move from larger houses to the redesigned space, Geis admits the couple does miss one thing: gardening. Both were avid gardeners in their prior homes. During the summer, DeMatties makes use of their wraparound balcony to hang flowerpots, which passersby compliment as “very European.”
In the near future, the two plan to travel, Geis to Tokyo and DeMatties to Africa, where her son is in the Peace Corps. The Baskerville provides a comfortable home base—eclectic, personal and historic, just the way they like it.
Laura Jones is a Madison-based writer.