2023 RDAA | Custom Urban House | Curtain House | Johnsen Schmaling Architects

Once besotted by the front façade, one barely needs to see any more of this urban infill house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It had our jurors at hello: “I love the exterior; I love the idea,” said one. “It’s bold, but beautifully bold, without being a curveball,” said another. 

Curtain House is indeed an “idea” house, and the concept is simple but resonant. “You go to all the trouble to put all that glass on the front of houses, but then end up putting up curtains,” explains Sebastian Schmaling, AIA. “There’s an inherent contradiction between what you are trying to do—bring in light—and then you want privacy. Why not put in smaller windows, then? Because occasionally you want to open the curtains and the windows.”

The front façade’s louvers are a modern and practical riff on those offending curtains. Fabricated from a sturdy sandwich of wood with an aluminum core, they are pinned only at the top and bottom—in a precise arrangement that acts as a brise soleil for the southern exposure, while filtering views and light. “Had we used just wood, the louvers would look great the day they were installed, but then in disrepair in a couple of years,” he says.  

“Someone had the guts to do something so different here, and to do it very well,” our jury concluded.

[From the Editor: To see more about the firm’s work, see their monograph, “On Rigor,” from ORO here.]


Custom Urban House

Johnsen Schmaling Architects
Curtain House
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Project Credits

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

Builder: N/A

Interior Designer: Johnsen Schmaling Architects

Project Size: 3.400 square feet

Site size: 0.1 acre

Construction Cost: Withheld

Photography: John J. Macaulay

Key Products

Countertops: Neolith

Door Hardware: Inox

Exterior: StoQuik Silver DrainScreen cement board stucco system

Façade material: Geolam Soleo (louvers)

Faucets: Ruvati (kitchen); Grohe; Kohler

Glass Railing Hardware: C.R. Laurence

Interior Lighting: Juno

Kitchen Appliances: Bosch

Paints: Sherwin-Williams

Sinks/toilets/tub: Duravit

Tile: Crossville

Washer/Dryer: Miele

Windows: Marvin; Western Windows (lift-slide doors)