A young couple from Chicago wanted a weekend getaway in the Wisconsin woods, but their budget was 'aggressively small,' says Sebastian Schmaling, of Milwaukee-based Johnsen Schmaling Architects. A traditional cabin with inflexible private rooms surrounding large, common spaces was therefore not an option. The clients and the architects were also conscious of minimizing the footprint in the rural setting: a clearing that marks an old logging road in Muscoda, Wisconsin.

In order to consolidate the program, the architects stacked the functional spaces to create a house that looks like a three-dimensional L lying on its spine. By carving into the slope of a hill, they could place a garage and bathroom in a concrete base, where cedar, for entry and garage doors, adds warmth.

From this point at the foot of the slope, stairs lead to the main level, where floor-to-ceiling curtains partition two bedrooms from an open living and dining space. Two more curtains can be closed to conceal the galley kitchen. 'On a cold winter night, you might want to sit around the fireplace and not do your dishes,' explains Schmaling. Sliding glass doors open to the woods, creating a screened outdoor room in the summer. The top story, with only a third of the structure's floor plate, is an elevated observatory.

The two upper floors are clad in anodized metal panels. To avoid the rigidity of a grid, Schmaling staggered the vertical expansion joints in the concrete base so that they would not align with the joints of the metal panels and vertical windows.

This desire for a casual gesture fits well with the flexible spatial qualities of the house and the emphasis on its natural surroundings, making this a perfect place to leave it all behind.


Owner: Jeremy and Amanda Hollis

Location: Muscoda, Wisconsin

Completion Date:  November 2011

Gross square footage:  880 sq. ft.

Total construction cost: withheld

Johnsen Schmaling Architects
1699 N. Astor Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
P: 414.287.9000
F: 414.287.9025

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Brian Johnsen*, AIA and Sebastian Schmaling*, AIA, LEED AP (Partners-in-charge), Nick Woods*
(*=registered architect)

Interior design: Johnsen Schmaling Architects

Engineer: Larson Engineering

General contractor: Rick Hansen Builders

Photographer: John J. Macaulay

Drawings and Graphics: Johnsen Schmaling Architects

CAD system, project management, or other software used: AutoCad 2012; Trimble SketchUp.



Structural system
Exposed concrete foundations

Dimensional wood framing with engineered wood trusses

Exterior cladding
Horizontal T&G Cedar

Two-coat Integrally-colored cementitious plaster over galvanized wire mesh

Moisture barrier: Vaproshield

Johns Manville EPDM

Eagle Windows and Doors

Entrance: Custom

Lift-Slide Doors: Archispec

Overhead Door: Custom

Locksets: Schlage

Interior finishes
Cabinets: Custom

Paints: Benjamin Moore Natura Paints

Solid surfacing: Ceasarstone

Curtains: Knoll Textiles

Floor finishes
Entry level and main level: Polished integrally colored concrete

Observatory: Rift-sawn white oak, oiled

Recessed Downlights: Juno

Vanity Strip Lights: Artemide

Faucets, toilets, fittings: Kohler

Bathroom sinks: Lacava

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
Insulation: “Biofoam” agricultural-based expanding foam insulation (for insulation values of R-34 in walls and R-53 in roofs)