living space is designed to be multifunctional, architect
Russell LaFrombois III says. "It had to be very
comfortable, very warm and inviting where you could sit and
read a book or throw a party. It had to be
everything." Homeowner Julilly Kohler has integrated art,
books and objects from her many travels into the room.
Kohler curls up in a comfortable chair near her fireplace reading from
her grandfatherís cherished book collection on the shelves beside
her, itís more than a Rockwellian moment.
result of a decade of planning for a sustainable urban house, hours
and hours of idea sessions with her architect, Russell LaFrombois III,
and a ruthless editing of a lifetime of possessions she has collected
in her travels. "One of the biggest things I learned in this move
is how burdensome possessions are. Itís easier to live with
less," Kohler says. "Itís an ongoing lesson."
Anyone who has
built a house will say the building process is a learning experience.
Not only did Kohler educate herself on straw bale construction, green
roofs and solar chimneys, she also gave serious thought how the design
of her house should reflect whatís important to her. "One of
the things I learned is that you really want to pick what you want to
do with your time and make it so itís easy to do that. You need to
make sure you work with an architect who is willing to understand
where you are going with that concept," she says. "When you
move in, suddenly you can live your life in a different way."
The books, for
instance, were always special to her, but in her old house she passed
by them for years without having any interaction with them. Now the
classics from the Limited Editions Club that date back to the 1920s
and hold illustrations from the likes of Pablo Picasso and Grant Wood,
are within armís reach. "I found myself deep into the
autobiography of Ben Franklin the other day. It was such a
delight," she says.
oil painting of Kohler and her mother hangs above a cozy niche
in the main living space.
Kohler have known each other for two decades and have worked on
numerous projects together in the city, including the Kane Commons
development in which Kohler built her house. The houses are alike in
that they are built to the highest level of sustainability, though the
architectural style of Kohlerís house differs from the modern style
of the other homes. "Itís very Julilly-centric,"
LaFrombois says. "There really is no stylistic word for it."
located in an urban environment, LaFrombois says he can envision the
house being in the country as easily as in the city. "Julilly
grew up in the formality of the Kohler family," he says.
"Kohler homes were anything but domestic. But she fell in love
with her familyís cottage and always felt comfortable there."
point was Kohlerís desire to build a straw bale house, which lent
itself to the homeís curvy, organic shape. "Iíve always loved
curves," Kohler says. "I think they are more natural. The
only straight lines in nature are the rays that come from the
the house feels as if it has emerged from the earth. "My
architect did a wonderful job in growing my house out of this hill so
the overlook is totally natural over this wonderful, living river. The
swooping, living roof has also become a part of nature as it welcomes
creatures from above," Kohler says.
She moved in
during the winter months, so Kohler didnít immediately realize the
impact of having the Milwaukee River as a neighbor. "Even when Iím
not watching it, the flow of the river casts a moving light past the
windows. I donít think Iíve ever been happier than living on this
Like the river,
Kohler cherishes her eclectic, East Side locale. "I feel more
alive in this neighborhood," she says. "Itís really
livable, which helps create a vibrant and interesting neighborhood. I
love being near my beloved Brady Street, which is doing nothing but
deepening and growing."
only her most prized possessions in her earth-friendly confines,
entertaining friends and family, and interacting with nature and the
city, Kohler is happy. "There really isnít any other reason to
build a house than to somehow enhance and support the rest of your
life," she says. "Itís a lot of pain, so it better be
worth it. This is the payoff ó the life you live inside that
an age of spacious master suites, Kohlerís bedroom is
intentionally small, due, in part, to her love of train
compartments. The bed is made of cherry and was her grandmotherís.
antique French country table has been with Kohler for years and
fit into the new space.
is key in the galley style kitchen. Kohler prefers draws to
cabinets as the objects inside are easier to reach.