An estate on a coveted piece of lakefront property now holds the title of most expensive home in Wisconsin.
Recently listed for $20.75 million, the mansion on Snake Road in Lake Geneva, WI, is ideal for a wealthy Windy City resident in search of an escape.
Built in 1906, the home, known as Villa Hortensia, measures 12,396 square feet and sits on 20.5 acres of lakefront property about two hours from downtown Chicago.
“From the beginning, [Lake Geneva] has been a retreat for the wealthy. That’s why a house like this gets built,” says the listing agent, David Curry. “The combination of a huge property, with highly pedigreed design, in relatively nice condition, is a rare combination on the lake.”
In Curry’s opinion, the location of the property is hard to top.
“What makes the property exciting—it’s not just a cool house with a classic design,” he adds, noting that it’s on what he describes as “one of the top 10 pieces of dirt on the lake.”
Built for a Chicago meatpacking tycoon, Edwin Swift, and named for his wife, Hortense, the estate has serious architectural credentials. The architect Howard Van Doren Shaw and the landscape architect Jens Jensen worked together to create the timeless residence, which is flanked by a number of other prestige properties.
“It’s on Snake Road, which is where the majority of our large legacy estates are located,” Curry explains.
Billionaires own the homes on either side, but this villa creates an indelible impression.
“When you’re driving up to it, you see it for quite a distance before you arrive at it. It’s just immense,” he adds.
The current owners have held onto the home for about 20 years and are year-round residents. Curry told us that full-time residents are a rarity on this exclusive stretch of lakefront homes.
Despite its size, Curry thinks the prestige property may be better suited to an owner who uses it as a getaway.
“It’s more than likely the ultimate and best use of this property is similar to the other ones on the lake, which are almost entirely vacation homes,” he says.
The house has 18 rooms, including six bedrooms, 10 full bathrooms, plenty of living space, and a finished basement.
It also boasts great bones.
“Old homes like this with an architectural pedigree, the layouts weren’t complicated. They weren’t busy, like they would be today,” Curry says. “The simplicity of it really stands out. It’s just clean. It’s simple. The rooms are all oriented to face the water.”
He also points out that the house doesn’t seem overwhelming or stuffy.
“I think what struck me the first time I visited is how approachable it was,” he says. “It isn’t some big, weird museum, where you rattle around in it. It’s a really smart, intuitive design.”
In addition to the main house, there are a three-bedroom guesthouse, a boathouse, and two storage buildings.
The property also offers 502 feet of lakefront frontage with a gentle slope, a rarity on this lake.
“From the entrance on Snake Road, all the way down to the main house, it’s largely level the whole way through,” Curry explains. “One of the unique parts about the property is that it doesn’t just wind down a big, steep, unusable wooded hillside, and then dump you out on the lake. The whole drive in is reasonably level and usable property.”
For entertainment, there is a pool and a clay tennis court. Curry says the land would be perfect for soccer or any other kind of outdoor activity. There are also two piers on the lake for boats.
The current owners have updated the roof and mechanicals, so Curry says that all the new owners have to do is come in and make it their own.
“This home has original millwork, original doors, original windows, and original detailed latticework. It’s got tons of original features, but I do think a new buyer will probably upgrade the kitchen, and probably the baths, repaint, and swap some fixtures here and there,” he says. “It does not need some form of massive renovation. It needs appropriate cosmetic updating.”