Knowing Your Boundaries

A small Wisconsin home conquers site challenges to become an eco-friendly getaway.

Blending a living space with tranquil surroundings takes more than constructing a simple cabin — although simple is part of the plan. Today's progressive-minded owners want natural material homes that fit into the surroundings, are incorporated into the terrain, use materials native to the area, and try to disturb the land as little as possible. These considerations were vital to John and Marilyn Phelps as they went about planning their Wisconsin getaway from the demands of their daily city life. Their design required a tailored-fit home that would wear well on them and blend with the terrain.

The Phelps' kitchen is accented by olive paint

The couple turned to JDA Design Architects of Minneapolis. John Anderson of JDA has created homes that evoke a sense of purpose, while conserving square footage. His challenge was to create a vacation home of natural materials on an irregularly shaped lot along a heavily wooded lakeshore. The lot contains ecologically sensitive land with a curving shoreline at the back, a protected wetland at the front, and a high water table. Placement was critical and done with expert local advice and approval: The Wisconsin DNR and the county zoning commissioner worked with the architect to determine the location and size of the foundation.

Using the predetermined boundaries, Anderson was able to come up with a plan. To fit within the many setback limits, the foundation took on a gradually expanding or "stepped" look to provide as much square footage as possible. "We weren't looking for a huge home," says Marilyn Phelps. "We wanted a functional lake home that provided a great view and had room for a variety of overnight guests." Almost every room has a novel configuration or a new corner to fit within the triangular lot. "The land dictated the shape, but as it turned out, the angles provided new places for windows and gave the home its personality," says Anderson. "It's also in scale with the forest and doesn't look overstated."

The Phelps limited the number of mature pine trees that had to harvest prior to construction; the ones that had to come down were added to the home. "We wanted to reuse the pine logs in some way and decided to turn them into exposed beams and columns in the living room," says Phelps. "Marilyn and I hand-peeled them ourselves and then had them kiln-dried at a nearby mill. We also had one fashioned into our fireplace mantel." Drabek Construction provided an assist with the integration of the pine logs and with other construction suggestions, such as adding some real stone to the architectural stone fireplace.More about this home, including the six primary steps the Phelps' took to conserve energy use in the home, was published in the print magazine.