It’s the lush landscape that draws visitors into this white sprawling home in a verdant suburb of Milwaukee. Like a rich textural patchwork, a terraced garden unfolds in nuanced shades of green, rose and amber, manicured with shapely boxwood where it needs to be, and a little wild with creeping sedum and drifts of lavender and nepeta where it’s more suitable Lannon stone steps slope down a path to a pond, where an old willow’s wispy branches arc above. On the more than 4-acre site, two weathered barns look as though they’ve been standing since the turn of the century. In fact, they are actually a more recent addition—crafted from reclaimed wood—as is a charming stone folly that seems as if it was plucked from the countryside in Brittany, France.
These endearing features, however, were not always so. “I can’t say that there was anything magical,” explains the wife about the couple’s initial encounter with the property. “We were young, and it was the first house we purchased. But we liked the location and that it offered a lot of privacy on a pond.” Adds designer Jessica Jubelirer: “The owners understood that the property provided a unique opportunity to create a home that fit their needs and reflected their personal taste.” The original structure, though—a white clapboard two-bedroom ranch with black shutters, built in 1967 and purchased by the couple 22 years later—was absent of a particular architectural style. “Every side was covered with sliding patio doors, and the floor plan just wasn’t right,” says the wife. Yet the couple, along with architect Jorgen R. Hansen, could see the possibilities; Hansen imagined the home as a Greek Revival that would look like it had evolved over time, stretching up and out over the property, with a whisper of asymmetry.
Inside, the architect reorganized the existing floor plan, creating a more formal entry under a circular dome in a square front hall that leads into formal areas to the right and a new family room and kitchen to the left. Windows not only admit light but also gloriously frame views of the landscape, while extra-wide door openings add to the expansive feeling of the home. “In all the main spaces, you can see light in multiple directions,” says Hansen. Still, the plan is very traditional, with many rooms defined by ceilings with coffers, vaults and beams. “They wanted contemporary living but in a traditional fashion,” says Jubelirer.
The couple, who share the home with their teenage son, have been collecting antiques for many years. While they are both history buffs and antiquities aficionados, the husband is especially fond of late-18th- and early-19th-century styles, as well as Federal period furnishings. “I love old wood with character: dense grain, worm holes, spalting and especially patina,” he says. Adds Jubelirer: “They particularly love wood pieces that tell a story.”
To achieve a balanced look, Jubelirer took stock of the owners’ many antiques, added new elements where appropriate and tweaked existing furnishings with new upholstery and slipcovers. “The goal was to incorporate these traditional elements with comfort and modernity in mind,” she says. The designer furthered this notion in the cozy library, hanging modern artwork against walls covered in a tweedy wool bouclé. “It softens everything in the room and is a great backdrop to the millwork,” she says. In addition, the walls in the husband’s office are wrapped in cognac-hued glazed-leather blocks, a rich backdrop for his collection of historical etchings. Finding just the right elements—such as the statement-making dining room rug— suits the overall organic process. “Each piece is unique and rich and creates a layering effect,” says the designer.
Layering continues in the kitchen, where an antique rug covers quarter-sawn white-oak floors, and antique lanterns lend a beautiful patina. “Her vision was very simple, timeless and clean, with white-painted cabinets and traditional undertones,” says Jubelirer of the wife’s wishes. A perfect foil: Jacobean-style barstools, featuring leather seats with floral-embroidered English crewel backs, embody this notion while also nodding to the scenery outdoors. In turn, the cedar-plank ceiling and walls in the sun room were brushed with milk paint to allow the wood to show through and painted a blue-green shade to connect with the flooring and outdoors. “It feels like an extension of the terrace, especially since the floor is also bluestone,” says Jubelirer. “The spectacular property and landscape were always a driving force when shaping the interiors of the home.”
Outside, landscape architect Judith Stark redesigned the terrain that was shaken up because of remodeling, excavations and new grading. She created a stone retaining wall, which informed more formal terraces, one covered with a pergola. “Each space outside has a different mood and personality, much like the interiors, with areas of sun and shade,” says Stark. The husband enjoys horticulture and provided a variety of plant materials for Stark to work with. In addition, he was very hands-on during the design of the outbuildings, which he worked on in collaboration with the mason who also maintains the lawn and a carpenter who loves to use reclaimed wood, borrowing details from both American and European architecture. “Each of the main spaces in the house has a connection to the outdoors,” says Hansen. “The old home used to seem like it was just floating in a lawn. Now, it’s a pristine white house offset by the deep green colors of the surrounding landscape.”