Door County, Wisconsin


An empty-nester couple desired a modest structure that pays 'sincere deference' to its forest site on the Door Peninsula of eastern Wisconsin. The Milwaukee firm of Johnsen Schmaling Architects responded with a simple rectangular 1,850-square-foot volume nestled in a clearing on the 4-acre property. Its charred-wood siding echoes the texture and color of the closely surrounding tree trunks. 'The challenge with this setting,' says Sebastian Schmaling, who designed the house with partner Brian Johnsen, 'is tempering the inherently disruptive act of building in nature. We made an ambiguous boundary, one that softens the geometry and moderates the transition from artificial to natural.'

Called the Pleated House for its series of canted exterior surfaces, the low-profile building makes use of the ancient Japanese technique of charring cedar, shou sugi ban, for its main volume. The high-performance material withstands fire and acts as a sealant-free preservative against rot and insects. It also serves as a breathable rainscreen that protects the underlying thermal envelope from solar exposure and moisture.

The architects carved out the entrance in the rectangular mass to make a trellised forecourt that leads to the vestibule. They gave the sequence definition with walls of milled varnished lumber, stacked at slight angles that reverberate in deep relief with the board pattern wrapping the building. The vestibule connects to a covered porch in the rear, where an expansive patio extends the width of the living and dining areas.

There is a quiet tension in this sylvan retreat, by design. The interior materials'in contrast with the dark, tactile exterior'are white for walls, cabinets, and a steel staircase, with a gray polished-concrete floor. An expansive vegetated roof (which, among other green virtues, relieves runoff) visually connects the second-level master suite to the ground. Most striking is the master suite itself'a glazed and varnished-cedar-board box the red-brownish color of the entry wall and of fall foliage'expressed as an object separate from the main structure beneath it.

'This house is about a reasoned manipulation of volume and skin,' notes Schmaling. 'Rather than create form that justifies itself, we push a formal vocabulary rooted in a fundamental contextuality.'


Owner: withheld

Johnsen Schmaling Architects
1699 N. Astor Street
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
P: 414.287.9000

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Principals-in-Charge: Brian Johnsen, AIA and Sebastian Schmaling, AIA, LEED AP

Interior Design:
Johnsen Schmaling Architects

Landscape Design:
Johnsen Schmaling Architects

Larson Engineering

General contractor:
Tielens Constrcution, Inc.

John J. Macaulay

CAD system, project management, or other software used:
AutoCAD 2014

Gross square footage:

1,840 Sq.ft.

Total construction cost:


Completion date:




Exterior cladding
Wood: Western Red Cedar, charred or varnished

Moisture barrier: Vaproshield “Wall-Shield”

Membrane Roofing: Johns Manville

Green Roof: Etera

Wood frame: Marvin

Entrance: Custom

Lift-Slide: Custom

Interior Sliding Door: Raumplus

Interior Door Hardware: Inox

Interior finishes
Cabinets; Custom

Paints and stains: Benjamin Moore

Floor and wall tile (all bathrooms): Ceramiche Caesar

Interior ambient lighting:
Downlights: Juno

Exterior: Bega

Dimming System or other lighting controls: Lutron

Kitchen: Kohler (sink); Grohe (faucet)
Bathrooms: Lacava (sinks), Kohler (toilets), American Standard (showers)

Closed Loop Geothermal System: WaterFurnace

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
Insulation: Biofoam (agricultural byproduct-based closed-cell foam)