Heartland Haven

Although her primary residence is on the East Coast, the owner of this fantastic custom home in Lake Geneva, Wis., remains firmly connected to her family roots, opting to build her vacation retreat on the same treasured homestead where she grew up. "This property was originally a working farm and has been in my client's family for decades," says Chicago-based architect, Ray Hartshorne, who desi...

September 01, 2005

Custom Crib
Custom Secondary Residence

Although her primary residence is on the East Coast, the owner of this fantastic custom home in Lake Geneva, Wis., remains firmly connected to her family roots, opting to build her vacation retreat on the same treasured homestead where she grew up.


"This property was originally a working farm and has been in my client's family for decades," says Chicago-based architect, Ray Hartshorne, who designed this unique 9000-square-foot residence.

The home's distinctive whitewashed, board and batten exterior recreates the traditional character of the main barn that originally occupied the site — right down to its bona fide silo. Inside, the home features a comfortable, contemporary, three-level floor plan that includes a spacious recreation room on its below-grade level, volume ceilings that add drama to the main-floor living spaces, a secluded master retreat, and a pair of whimsical guest suites with shuttered interior windows that overlook the informal living space below.

"The 'farm' theme of this project could have been done any number of ways," says Hartshorne. "While the interior spaces reflect the volumes and basic shape of a barn, we opted for a look that was not too traditional. It was my client's desire that the home be great for entertaining with a floor plan that would handle big crowds easily. But she also wanted it to feel warm and inviting when she is there on her own."

Design Concept

"We wanted to create a modern house that still retained a great sense of charm and character," says Hartshorne of his design which he classifies as Wisconsin vernacular with a modern edge to it. "Outside, it has all the classic elements of a conventional barn such as the distinctive roofline, board-and-batten cedar siding, and a standing seam metal roof. Inside, it contains everything that someone would look for in a contemporary home such as great volume ceilings and modern finishes and amenities."

Hartshorne designed the public elevation of the home to retain an authentic barn appearance. "On its street side, the style of the home is not diminished by the fact that it is actually a house."


The home's southern exposure is oriented to provide its wner with the most dramatic views of the 2.3-acre site. This elevation features a continuous bank of windows and a full-width, mid-level deck. "The use of all of the glass on this side of the home gives it a much more contemporary feel," says Hartshorne.

This is also the elevation that reveals the L-shaped arrangement of the home's spacious floor plan. This design accomplishes two purposes, says the architect. On the exterior it serves to break down the scale of the main structure and make it more interesting visually. Inside, it creates a separate wing, which includes the master suite and den on the main level. "This allows the master suite to literally become a home within the home by providing the owner with a private retreat from the public spaces."

The living space on the main floor is designed with a big circulation pattern, which adapts well to large-scale formal entertaining events, says Hartshorne. "It is essentially a donut-shaped arrangement that results in great flow between the rooms." The formal dining room, serves as the hub of the living space with front and rear galleries flanking it on either side. These view-oriented hallways provide direct access to both the formal living room and kitchen/great room. These galleries also feature ceiling cutouts that enhance the vertical space, he says.

Hartshorne designed the walk-out basement to fulfill his client's desire for informal space. It features a 1000-square-foot recreation room complete with its own mini-kitchen, a guest suite with its own entry courtyard from the outdoors, a large workshop and a custom flower shop that includes a built-in cooler, potting tables, storage space and cleanup sinks.

The home's second floor includes two bedrooms and a large loft, which overlooks the living room.

Design Team

With more than 18 years of experience, Hartshorne was confident in his ability to provide his client with the home design that she was looking for. He was hesitant to take on this project, he says, because in this case the client was a close acquaintance. "I originally refused to become involved because I have a longstanding rule never to work for family or friends. In the end, I agreed to design this home because I recognized that she really trusted my judgment."

The design/permit phase of the home took 12 months to complete, says Hartshorne. "This is pretty much standard for a project of this nature. We created three-dimensional computer perspectives of the home as well as a chipboard scale model so that she could really visualize the way the interior spaces would be connected."

Three local builders were considered for this project, says Hartshorne. Although the client made the final decision on who got the job, he says that he was also very involved in the interview process and provided his own final recommendation.

"The first thing that I consider is each candidate's experience. When I look at their portfolio I want to see quality. Also, I believe that references are very important. This allows me to see what their previous clients thought of them. Then I try to determine if the builder is organized but also energetic and flexible. You want to know how easy it will be to work with them when changes become necessary.

"It may sound funny, but price is the last thing that I consider, particularly when all of the bids are in the same general area. It is much more important feel like you are getting the right individual, the right temperament, right person for the job."

Hartshorne says that he was pleased with the choice for this project, Bill Binn, of Wyntree Construction a custom builder who averages four to six high-end projects a year in the area.

Binn agrees that a positive working relationship brings the best results. "Personalities play a huge role when you are building a custom home. This really is a working relationship based on trust more than anything else. We really worked well with the architectural team on this project. Everyone was very open to suggestions from each other."


Both Hartshorne and Binn worked together to research how to best build this project. According to Binn, "While the home's basic design was inspired by photos of the old barn, the architect and I spent a lot of time in each other's offices planning the project," he says "We even scouted old barns around the state looking for authentic exterior barn details and how they were used."Hurdles & Outcomes

Before construction on the new home could begin, the original barn on the site had to be removed, says Binn. "We also had to excavate the original footings and 3 to 8 feet of soil because the old drain tile under the structure made the soil unstable." This excess soil was used for landscaping including creating a sledding area at the rear of the property.

Maintaining privacy for the homeowner was a key factor in the home's design and orientation because the home site is located along the main highway that encircles the lake. "There are deliberately very few windows on the north side of the home," says Hartshorne.

The main structure of the home features six pre-manufactured laminated Douglas fir trusses which made it possible to create the dramatic, exposed ceilings. "We could have used vintage lumber," says Binn, "but it would have been five times as expensive. The glulam trusses gave us the same look with an economy of cost. And they really made the home's interior very dramatic."

Binn, an experienced builder, admitted this project presented him with some interesting challenges. The use of the trusses to create the home's wide open spaces "proved to be a learning experience" he says. "We had to build the end walls of 2 by 10 studs, tip them up with a crane and brace them in place while we waited for the interior trusses to be delivered, installed and tied together. It was a pretty tense three-week process where we really worried about a big wind coming along and making a mess of things."

By design, the home also features extremely heavy duty bracing at all of its connections and numerous specially fabricated products, says Binn. "What seemed to be excessive initially really made sense in the end. Real barns constantly shift that's not a problem because they're intended to hold livestock and hay. But you can't have that type of movement in a house or you will damage the walls. This house is solid as a rock."

Hartshorne and Binn completed the home in 2003


Custom Crib

Aside from its signature roofline, this home's most distinctive feature may be the 42-foot-tall silo on its entry elevation. Custom built for this project, the silo actually contains one of two staircases that connect the residence's three levels of living space.

"We are building silos for unique applications more and more often," says Bruce Johnson, of Wisconsin Silos that pre-fabricated the 14-foot diameter structure in its Plover, Wis. facility and then delivered it to the construction site for assembly. This includes both residential and commercial projects, he says, as well as for municipalities which make use of a silo's structure and rural character to disguise cellular phone service towers.

"A silo can actually be complicated and labor-intensive to build," says architect Hartshorne, "and we thought that it would be a better idea to have someone with expertise in that area do the job rather than to have a local contractor attempt it."

Similar to its conventional farm counterpart, this silo was constructed of precast concrete panels, or staves, held together by compression rings topped by a metal dome cap. "But by their very design, silos move slightly and leak at their joints," says Binn, "so we had to find out how to build one that didn't."

In this case, the silo's dome actually serves as a decorative element and lighting rod on top of a flat rubber roof which is designed to prevent leaks from the top. The structure's exterior shell was sprayed with a clear waterproofing product similar to that used for foundations. Inside, a separate sheetrock wall was constructed leaving a 6-inch insulated airspace between the inner and outer walls. "Any water that leaks in will run down the wall and into a drainage system that we've installed at the base of the silo," says Binn.

The silo's circular staircase was also built offsite by Cooper Stairs in Mundelein, Ill., disassembled and then reassembled inside the standing shell. "It was really amazing to see," says Binn, "the stringers looked almost like corkscrews coming up from the floor."

Custom Secondary Residence

Style of Home: Wisconsin Farm Vernacular

Location: Lake Geneva, Wis.

Total Square Footage: 9000

Estimated Market Value: withheld at owner's request

Architect: Hartshorne + Plunkard Ltd., Chicago, Ill.

Builder: Wyntree Construction. Lake Geneva, Wis.

Major Products Used: APPLIANCES: Sub-Zero (refrigerator); Viking (range); Bosch (dishwasher); Maytag (washer, dryer); U-Line (rec room); GE (rec room microwave). CUSTOM CABINETRY: Wood-Mode (kitchen, den, master, mud room); KraftMaid (rec room COUNTERTOPS: granite, butcher block (kitchen); Corian (rec room); marble (master bath). FLOORING: hickory; Ann Sacks, American Olean (tile) PLUMBING FIXTURES: Kohler SECURITY SYSTEM: Advantage Alarm HVAC: Carrier (forced air with zone systems). FIREPLACE: masonry; Heatilator (den). WINDOWS: Marvin. PATIO DOORS: Marvin. Exterior Doors: Simpson Door Co. LOCKSETS: Rocky Mountain Hardware; Baldwin EXTERIOR SIDING: board and batten (rough sawn cedar). EXTERIOR STAIN: Cabot. ROOFING: Galvalume. WATERPROOFING (SILO): Degussa Building Systems (Hydrozo); Enviroseal

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