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Cottage castle
Well-crafted getaway has old-world details

Photos by Doug Edmunds

October 2014

The attention to detail in the cottage designed by Bill Koehnlein of Collaborative Design elevates this space far beyond the expected. Koehnlein designed the fireplace, which includes Gothic arches, stone, brick, quarter-sawn white oak and plaster, incorporating a corner detail in the plaster work that was commonly used at the turn of the 20th century. Koehnlein picked up the zebra rug at auction; the ottoman in the seating area is upholstered with a Tibetan rug and inspired the color palette. "I like to mix old pieces in with new pieces," Koehnlein says. "It gives it a special, well-traveled look."

While some drive hours to an Up North getaway, one Waukesha County family can leave it all behind simply by walking across the driveway.

"I had been looking for a place Up North for a long time, but we donít have time to drive five hours to get somewhere," the homeowner says. "This turned into Up North for me," she says of the cottage that was built to complement the Tudor style of their 1920s home.

Two Gothic arches at the top of the stairs become an architectural feature around a necessary support post. The custom designed booth with built-in television comfortably seats 12 for dining, gaming or socializing. To the right of the seating area is a built-in bar that opens up for extra counter space; behind it, the cottageís mechanicals are housed.

But this is no ordinary cottage. Well-conceived details, expert craftsmanship and a few surprises make this space an extraordinary place in which to relax.

The homeowner had strong design ideas and began as the general contractor, working with many friends and relatives in the trades, including mason contractor Dennis Grimm. "As it was being built, the space dictated what it needed to be," the homeowner says. "It took tons more time, but it made it much more interesting of a space."

The owner wanted to incorporate her antique marble collection into the balusters, but they were too small. An artist in West Virginia created the effect; many of the marbles are signed, and they spin in the balusters. "Everyone who comes in has to spin them when they come up the stairs," the homeowner says. The floor in the entry and the stair treads are end-grain oak, creating a cottagey impression. The newel post echoes the marble detail; the dark-stained handrail and a detail on the stair treads visually tie in the darker floors upstairs with the lighter tones pictured here.

Along the way she met Bill Koehnlein of Collaborative Design, who took over the project when the homeowners went on an extended trip overseas. "Finding him was like a gem for me," the homeowner says. "He literally collaborates with you. He took what I was thinking and made it better."

When she was looking for a cottage door, he came up with a concept to modify a slab door into something unique; when she wanted a specific glass detail on the balusters on the stairs, he found an artist who could accomplish it. She envisioned the fireplace to appear as it would if it were in an old attic, with space to walk behind it. Koehnleinís stylized design is rich in Old World details, and the fireplace has become the focal point of the room.

Bill Koehnlein designed a bench for the entry to look like it came from an old church. Behind the bench is a secret panel that houses electronic equipment.

Hand-troweled plaster walls, angled fumed white oak ceilings, a hand-hammered zinc island and rich textiles are among the many details that express the visual story. Koehnlein describes the design as eclectic, ageless style. "I wanted to make sure this house is timeless. Itís a reflection of the lifestyle of my clients as well as befitting of the existing home on the property," he says. "In 30 years it will still have this classic architectural appeal."

A window in the white oak shower door lines up with the window inside the shower. A skylight above the mirror also brings in natural light and highlights the roomís architecture.

Multiple, distinct seating areas allow up to 30 people to sit comfortably. "It can accommodate a lot of people considering itís not a real large space," Koehnlein says.

"Every single person who comes in plops down on the couch and puts their feet up on the ottoman," the homeowner says. "Itís warm and inviting, not too formal and not too woodsy.

"It might not be what everyone would want to live in every day of their lives, but thatís not what itís meant to be," she says. "When you go Up North you leave your daily duties behind. I can come here for an hour to clear my head, and when I come back to the house, I feel like I just had a vacation." m



This story ran in the October 2014 issue of: