As any great architect knows, one of the keys to creating a masterful design is looking to the natural environment. This is exactly what architect John Vetter and project manager Thomas Richmond did when designing a home for a bosky 107-acre property straddling several distinct ecosystems in Wisconsin’s glacier-sculpted Kettle Moraine region. “This house is knitted and rooted in nature,” Vetter says. “It’s a single act.”
The impact of the pastoral surroundings becomes apparent upon approach. “It’s all part of the experience,” the architect explains, noting how the region’s undulating hills and rich farmland reveal themselves as the urban landscape recedes into the background. Far from the twinkling city lights, a long rural road leads to the property, where a sleek concrete gate with custom metalwork gives visitors a preview of what’s to come. Located at the end of a lengthy path that cuts across meadow grasslands, past a tranquil stream and pond, and through a hilly wooded area, the modernist abode features a series of wings that result in defined courtyards. “It just keeps unfolding,” Vetter says. “We call it the architecture of discovery.”
The silvery white stucco of the home was inspired by the property’s many beech trees. It’s thanks, in part, to those trees that designer Amy Carman dubbed the project “North Beech.” The other nod? To Miami Beach’s South Beach neighborhood, a region that reflects the owners’ inclinations toward vibrant artwork, bold takes and intense energy. “Their style is part rock star and part fun and irreverence, and you can feel that in every inch of the house,” Carman notes.
These Magic City vibes are the result of a project that started as a hunting retreat for the husband and his buddies, but soon expanded in scope to a far posher sanctuary for family and friends of all stripes. Think of it as a boutique hotel in one wing and a hunting lodge in the other joined together by a soaring great room. There, the bar showcases how the design team transformed the original men’s getaway concept. A black grass-cloth wallcovering with gold bunnies by iconic Pop artist Hunt Slonem makes a bold statement, perfectly coordinating with the brass-and-glass illuminated shelving and mirrored bar front. Crocodile-embossed barstools take things up another notch. “In Wisconsin, it’s so common to have the bar in the lower level, so the idea of putting it in the main living space is gutsy,” Carman says, describing it as a jewel box. “They wanted it front and center.”
The glitzy centerpiece juxtaposes the neutral palette in the rest of the open space, which features polished concrete flooring and white walls accented by rift-sawn white oak cabinets and millwork. But neutral certainly doesn’t mean bland, at least not in Carman’s book. In the living area, a black-and-white area rug anchors a plush white linen-covered sectional in front of a board-formed concrete fireplace. A pair of black cocktail tables that resemble petrified tree trunks play off the more refined elements while subtly referencing the landscape. “I love all these edgy nods to nature,” says Carman. “Everything has a little bit of a playful attitude.
Away from the main living space, the designer upped the ante even more. For the primary bedroom she chose a bright green graphic wallcovering depicting white herons—another wink to the setting. “You can really hear them during the spring,” Carman explains. “We wanted something that would give the clients joy every time they see it.” Also paying homage to the surroundings is the bunk room’s headboard wall. Covered in a sketch-like black-and-white landscape, it’s a dramatic backdrop for a wall-to-wall faux-leather channel-tufted headboard shared by the two queen beds. “It’s so dimensional,” Carman says. “Just about every person who walks in there for the first time runs their hands over it.”
This speaks to the essence of the house overall: sophisticated and a little edgy, but nothing so precious that it can’t be touched. “For a house to work it has to be intuitive,” says Carman. “It has to be comfortable. We use materials, finishes, fabrics, art and personal artifacts to tell a story that reflects our clients. That’s the art of what we do.”