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Going glamping
Natural setting inspires Northwoods-themed camp

Photos by Artist Group Photography

October 2014


Within the main house, Vetter uses exposed Douglas fir to connect the interior and exterior living spaces.

How do you create a home that’s big enough to entertain 50 people yet feels warm and cozy for two? That’s the challenge architect John Vetter faced when he was commissioned to build a Waukesha County lake home.

The answer came to him the first time he stood on the property and surveyed the gentle slope of the land and the lake below. "One thought immediately came to mind: camp. The ground was perfect for a modern Northwoods-style camp," says Vetter, founding partner of Vetter Denk Architects Inc. "The slope allowed us to play with different levels and the size of the property meant it could be spread out like a camp. The clients loved it and bought into the concept right away," he says.

Vetter had already worked with the owners on two projects on the lake, but for various reasons both fell through. "Thanks to the trust and respect we already had for each other, we hit the ground running," he says. The project moved quickly, breaking ground just seven months from Vetter’s first site visit. It took two years from start to finish.


Exterior and interior blend in the lower level of the recreation "barn" where the walls are formed with board form concrete and clear cedar tongue and groove paneling, the same material used for the exterior siding.

"There is no way this could have happened without the cooperation of the owners," Vetter says. "They left all their preconceived notions at the door. Sure, they had their list of requirements, but they were very open to creativity.

"I believe that great architecture can only happen when there are great owners involved, and we certainly had that."

The camp look was the guiding principle for the project, from the choice of materials to the design of the buildings. "Like good recreational architecture, the entire project is highlighted by honesty in design and use of materials. Board-form concrete, limestone, Douglas fir, steel and glass, the material palette is very rich and stands on its own. Nothing is covered, or gratuitous."


Both the architect and owners insisted on honesty in the use of materials. The palette for the entire project is made up of board form concrete, exposed limestone, Douglas fir, steel and glass.

Vetter decided that to give it a true Northwoods lodge feel, he would design a series of interconnected buildings knitted together by a landscaped courtyard and numerous outdoor living spaces. The final design is not one house, but four primary pieces that flow down the slope toward the lake.

A bunkhouse sleeps up to 20, and three guest cottages feature a kitchen, sitting areas and private covered porches. In between the main house and guest quarters is the party barn, where much of the entertaining takes place. In keeping with the theme, the two-story building features a restored bar originally from a Wisconsin supper club.


The second floor of the Party Barn features a restored bar bought in Chicago that was originally from a Wisconsin supper club.

The final piece of the puzzle is the main lodge, which houses the master suite. The space is highlighted by a large chef’s kitchen that opens to a dining area lined with huge floor-to-ceiling glass doors. Outside is a trellised portico with unbeatable lake views. The living room is also surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows and highlighted by a 22-foot-high exposed limestone chimney. This double-sided fireplace also serves as the centerpiece for the pool patio.


By breaking up the building into separate pieces the home is big enough to entertain large family reunions but still feels cozy when used by just the owners.

Like a camp, there are numerous outdoor living spaces. The pool patio is the center that holds all the pieces in place. The outdoor spaces also include a kitchen, a shower, a bathtub and private porches and balconies. "Intermediate spaces are the hallmark of the home," Vetter says. "We wanted a free flow between indoors and outdoors, so we included a lot of oversized glass sliding doors that also give it the airy casual feel that fit the owners’ lifestyle," he says.


In the main house, great emphasis is placed on easy flow from the interior to the exterior. Here the kitchen and dining area open directly to the covered trellised porch which has the home’s best lake views.

By breaking up the home into pieces, Vetter was able not only to keep it cozy, but to make it big enough to host large family reunions — one of the owners’ requirements. "Visually, the camp concept gives it better scale. It makes it look humbler and far less ostentatious than a more conventional one-piece building of similar size would," he says.


Opposite, below: Satisfying a need to entertain and offer guests their own space, Vetter added three guest cottages that share a common living area and kitchen but each has a private covered balcony.

Vetter says he’s pleased with the pool and the flow of the main lodge, from the kitchen to the dining room to the outdoor trellised room. "One of my favorite spots, however, is a private covered porch off of the courtyard. It doesn’t have a lake view but it’s the perfect intimate spot for relaxing," he says.

"We can’t compete with the beauty of nature but we can do our best to frame it. Here I think we’ve done a pretty good job," he says. M



This story ran in the October 2014 issue of: