By Anne Morrissy | Photography by Kayser Photography
Joe and Molly Barber had been married about three years when they decided to take a trip from their Chicago home to a place Molly had spent a lot of time in the summer when she was growing up: Lake Geneva. Joe, a Madison native, had never visited before, but it didn’t take long for the area to work its magic on him.
“I absolutely fell in love with Lake Geneva,” he says. “I thought it was the most amazing place I’d ever been.” Over the course of that first summer, into the fall and even through the winter, the Barbers found they just couldn’t stay away.
“Starting in May of 2016 and all the way through the following winter, we spent so many weekends up here,” Molly explains. So in the beginning of 2017, the Barbers began searching for a place on Geneva Lake they could make their own.
On their wish list: a low-maintenance home with incredible lake views and a pier (Joe and Molly both share a love for the water and boating). “We were looking for something that needed a lot of work—we wanted a project,” Joe says. In May of 2017, their wishes came true when they purchased a home on the south shore of Geneva Lake, just east of Black Point. The home, which had not been updated in many decades, presented several renovation opportunities. So the day after the closing, the demolition crew from Stebnitz Builders, Inc., in Elkhorn showed up to begin the first phase of renovations to the home.
“We spend a lot of time with every potential client understanding whether or not we’re a good fit for their project,” explains Chris Stebnitz, owner of Stebnitz Builders. “With the Barbers, we spent several months prior to the demo, just trying to understand what they were looking to do. We ended up working with them to come up with the new layout and design of the house.”
The Barbers’ top priority was to maximize the view of the lake. “You just feel like you’re on top of the water, thanks to the elevation,” Molly says. “That’s really what we fell in love with.”
The first step was to reconfigure the layout of the main living spaces, which included moving the kitchen into what had previously been a bedroom.
After finalizing the purchase of the house in May, the Barbers were eager to get as much of the renovation completed as possible while still being able to enjoy the home that first summer.
“We were anxious because it was May already,” Joe explains. “So the Stebnitz team came in to work on the main living area and demo-ed the kitchen, painted, laid down the hardwood floors … and then they stopped so we could use it for the summer. At that point, it was a one-bedroom, zero-kitchen, one-bath place.” But even while living in the construction zone, the Barbers knew they had made the right choice. “We had a blast that first summer,” Molly says.
In the fall, the team returned to complete the renovations, which included converting unused space at the back of the house into two more bedrooms and an additional bathroom. By that point, the Barbers were expecting their first child, which led them to add a lofted area with bunk beds and replace the spiral stairs with a more child-friendly traditional staircase. “The look we were going for was an airy, open lake cottage,” Molly says. To achieve this, they painted the interior of the newly combined kitchen/ dining/great room a true white, up to the vaulted ceilings. In the kitchen, white custom cabinets and light-colored quartz countertops continue the theme. A dining room table evoking the look of a pier is a nod to the nautical environment just outside their picture window.
The end result is a far cry from the dark and dated house that the Barbers saw when they first toured the home in 2017. “Kudos to them for seeing the potential,” says Stebnitz. “Anybody else might have gone in there and said, ‘I can’t see myself living here.’ But you can’t beat that view. Everything else about a home you can change. But you can’t change the view.”
The Barbers say the view is their favorite thing about the home. “We love walking in the door and seeing how bright it is and seeing the lake right away,” Joe says.
This past winter, the couple completed the last lingering project on their list: remodeling the basement and adding two additional bedrooms and one bathroom to fit more family and guests. Today, the Barbers enjoy the home with their 18-month-old son, as they await the birth of their second child this summer. They are thrilled with the way it has turned out. “We’re so happy with it,” Molly says. “We just love being able to look at the lake all the time.”
The Lakeshore Living publications are published by Nei-Turner Media Group, a full-service agency located in Lake Geneva, WI. Our four publications cover the picturesque lake communities of Lake Geneva, Madison, Lake Country and Northwoods.
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