As designers of custom homes, we are presented with many unique requests. Often, especially within large family cabins, we are asked to create spaces to escape from the action. Sometimes, we are asked to incorporate special objects from past homes, or family heirlooms that have special meaning. We were able to do both in tandem in a new family retreat built in northern Wisconsin, affectionately called The Cottage by the family who would inhabit it.
During my colleague Dale’s first visit to our project site, he met our client and his daughter to talk about their dreams for the new home. It was mentioned that the family had an old cast iron spiral staircase in another home which would be fun to incorporate into the new house. The daughter, a creative soul who was fascinated by butterflies, suggested that we should make a space that she called the Chrysalis. She imagined the stair leading up to a cozy, light-filled retreat in the treetops. It could be a place where one could sit and read undisturbed for hours, or a fun hideaway for future grandchildren. She even drew us sketches to illustrate her ideas, which we were charmed by. With our challenge assigned, Dale and I worked hard to tuck such a space into the rooflines of the new home.
It sounded easy, but was not necessarily so when many programmatic requirements compete for space and views. Rooflines must work, drainage be accounted for, and then there was the matter of structure! The Chrysalis was to be the only space rising above the main level of the house, and the clients requested that it blend quietly with the surrounding character of the house rather than announce itself as a unique entity.
After many iterations and adjustments, we created a little nook nestled between the main rooflines. The space is barely detectable from the front of the house except for a small dormer above the spiral stair, but on the lakeward side it emerges out of the gables for a view into the trees and toward the lake.
In an extra whimsical turn, the entrance to the stair is concealed behind a built-in bookcase (a request we sometimes get from our more mystery-loving clients). Those who know where to look can swing the bookcase aside, ascend through a rounded stairwell into the snug haven, complete with daybed, benches, and books—a perfect spot to cocoon in for a break then emerge refreshed back into the fold.