2021 RDAA | Custom Rural or Vacation House | Kettle Moraine | Johnsen Schmaling Architects

“When you do a rural house, you create something manmade that interrupts the natural environment forever. It’s a big burden,” says Sebastian Schmaling, AIA. The firm is often asked to take on this burden, but always goes about the task with a reverence for what is already there. In this case, they were given a large canvas—a “huge piece of land” that was once an alfalfa farm—with a notable stand of birches on the edge of a plateau, descending ultimately to a wetland. 

There was also a ruin of a barn, now just foundation walls tracing its former boundaries. These are simple but evocative elements that in sensitive hands can become architecture. The barn walls greet visitors on the long approach to the house, past prairie grasses moving like waves in the breeze. It takes a while to notice the house, because it dips into the sloping land and behind a board-formed concrete retaining wall not unlike those barn walls. 

“The house is almost invisible from the road,” says Sebastian. “It’s carved into the topography. The front door frames a view of that birch grove beyond—this pristine collection of thin white lines against the brown and green of the wetland area. We based the façade system on these thin lines.” 

An important part of the project was restoring 50 acres of native prairie, paying forward the use of the homesite and lessening its burden on the land. “We love the contrast between the rigor and geometric clarity of the home and organic nature and the movement of the grasses,” says Sebastian.

Custom Rural or Vacation House

Johnsen Schmaling Architects
Kettle Moraine
Campbellsport, Wisconsin

Project Credits

Architect: Brian Johnsen, AIA, and Sebastian Schmaling, AIA, principals in charge; Matt Wendorf, Ben Penlesky, Angelina Torbica, project team, Johnsen Schmaling Architects, Milwaukee

Builder: Rick Serwe Custom Cabinetry, Campbellsport, Wisconsin

Interior Designer/Landscape Architect: Johnsen Schmaling Architects

Project Size: 3,033 acres

Site Size: 93 acres

Construction Cost: Withheld

Photography: Justin Lee Lopez

Key Products

Cladding: Boral TruExterior

Cooktop/Range/Dishwasher/Washer/Dryer: Miele

Countertops: Neolith

Faucets: Blanco (kitchen), Kohler

Fireplace: Stuv

Garage Doors: Clopay

HVAC: Trane

Insulation: Owens Corning

Paints: Benjamin Moore

Passage Doors: Inox

Refrigerator/Freezer: Sub-Zero

Sinks: Blanco (kitchen), Lacava

Thermal/Moisture Barriers: Prosoco

Toilets: TOTO

Windows: Quantum, Marvin

Window Shading: Lutron

Window Wall Systems: Quantum


Plans and Drawings

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