between spec colonials along the Lower Nemahbin Lake shoreline is a
private residence roused to challenge the status quo. In an area branded
for its sprawling suburbanism, the contemporary pied-à-terre both
acknowledges and defies its surroundings. But that doesn’t mean this
dwelling sticks out like a sore thumb.
House, as it’s called, is a grand study in modern eco-conscious
design. The brainchild of Milwaukee architects Brian Johnsen and
Sebastian Schmaling of Johnsen Schmaling Architects, the home epitomizes
the owners’ increasing desire to individualize their digs, all the
while embracing contemporary and environmental contexts.
trying to blend our architecture to make our buildings more
synthesized," says Schmaling. "The (buildings) are pieces of
art, but they are not trying to mimic nature — we are artistically
trying to interpret it."
House is a clear example of the duo’s design efforts. Constructed for
a fiber artist, doctor and their young family in 2014, the home stands
as a stunning work of cubistic art. Its simple yet meticulous wood
exterior is crafted from Wisconsin cedar, the base of which rests atop a
brick podium. The façade planks alternate between horizontal and
vertical placement and are stippled with painted boards, giving
streamlined look continues throughout the home’s more personal
spaces. Dual vanities, a curbless shower and strategically
positioned overhead lighting add modern-day conveniences.
With such close
neighbors, the architects sought to create a feeling of seclusion on the
small parcel of lakeland forest.
"We wanted to
focus the attention to the lake and block off the view into the
neighborhood," Schmaling says. "You can’t really see (the
house) from a distance, until you approach it."
open-concept floor plan allows for seamless transitioning between
indoor and outdoor living spaces.
To deflect from
the area’s tight quarters, a path to the front door of the home lies
ensconced in a brick courtyard flanked by a perforated brick wall. As a
visitor moves toward the large glass front door, the perforations on the
wall decrease, creating a "visual redaction" effect — hence
the name of the project. Inside the home, floor-to-ceiling apertures
serve as a gracious appealing
Far left: Floor-to-ceiling apertures
alternate with solid walls, maximizing the home’s lake views.
With the rooms of
the home gathered around a two-story living area, long clean lines, an
abundance of natural materials and minimalist design, the home evokes
the tranquility of a true lake dwelling.
A home this
contemporary is still unusual among southeast Wisconsin’s residential
landscape; the firm’s propensity for blending contemporary buildings
into the surrounding landscape, even more so. While it would be easy to
cast Johnsen Schmaling Architects as a specialized firm, their
portfolio, which ranges from commercial design to high-end residential
projects, here and across the country, is too broad to be encased in
transparent front door, offering views through the home and to the
lake, combined with a linear entryway begin the "visual
style has everything to do with a strong site program, a knack for
details, and the execution of a client’s vision, Schmaling says.
of art and technology is very important to aesthetic, but it has to be
usable, workable and safe," Schmaling says. "Architecture is
very rooted in physics. The art-to-science transformation is what we
Standing in the
showroom replete with 3-D models on Astor Street, and dressed in all
black, the pair admit they revile labels.
3-D model depicts how the architects played off the property’s
sloped site when
control what kind of mental images come across when people say we’re
‘modern,’" Johnsen says. "Milwaukee has pretty deep
architectural roots — a lot of good architecture has been produced
here. It just gets delivered with all of the other stuff, the mediocre
and the mundane."
When the two met
as students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the
self-proclaimed "outsiders" (Schmaling is from Berlin; Johnsen
is from Chicago) dreamed of careers that reached beyond designing
buildings for the drab, corporate projects taken on by many public
firms. After school, they got their feet wet by working for the same
boards painted in unexpected pops of color appear throughout the
exterior — a subtle nod to threads used by the homeowner, who is
a fiber artist by trade.
took a leap of faith and launched their own firm. Today the founding
principals and their small team offer a wide range of architectural and
design services, including master planning, schematic design and
construction administration, furniture design and graphics. The firm has
received more than 70 professional design awards and countless mentions
in prestigious architectural publications.
"One of the
key things we were trying to accomplish with our buildings was, ‘How
do we take a brick building, do something out of context, and translate
that into more contemporary language?’" says Schmaling.
"Nobody was really doing contemporary work; it was really
This year marks
Johnsen Schmaling Architects’ 13th anniversary. Over that time, the
duo says they’ve benefited from a changing aesthetic, largely driven