Designed to disappear into its surroundings, the Pleated House echoes the bark covering neighboring tree trunks.
Set against a densely wooded backdrop in Door County, Wisconsin, Pleated House embodies the idea of contextual architecture. With its modest volume, natural materials and earthy color palette, it strives to exist in near total harmony amidst the deciduous and coniferous forest towering above. Standing out by blending in.
At just 1,840 square feet, this modestly sized home was designed by architect Sebastian Schmaling of Johnsen Schmaling Architects in Milwaukee, Wisconsin—who used the context of the home’s setting to inform and guide the design process.
The home’s small scale and low-profile are meant to create as little disruption to the site as possible, and help the home almost disappear into the landscape.
“Our first challenge was how to work with putting the footprint of the home on this beautiful sylvan landscape without destroying it,” Schmaling said.
His overall idea for the home was to create an interpretive exterior that blends into the environment and pair it with a stark white, art gallery-esque interior with large punched openings to frame views of the site.
The home’s unique, undulating wood façade was inspired by Schmaling’s interpretation of the ridged contours of tree bark. It’s wrapped in charred cedar that’s been treated with raw fire to preserve the wood from insects, rot and weathering without the use of chemicals. The architecture itself along with the rich texture of the organic materials combine to downplay the home’s angular form, and free it from preconceived notions of what a modern home should look like.
“Instead of creating a sharp, straight wall, we wanted to do something undulating to create a more ambiguous footprint,” Schmaling said.
Tall, narrow Marvin windows within the folds of the charred cedar curtain play an important role in establishing the exterior’s pleated effect, while the dark-anodized aluminum cladding complements the black char of the cedar.
“At night especially, the windows create this illuminated gap that adds rhythm to the overall composition of the facade,” Schmaling said.
The home’s minimal interior helps create the stark contrast between inside and out that Schmaling envisioned. He wanted the interior to demur from attention so that the owners could simply enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds it. With little visual interest on the interior, the thin, white-painted profiles of the Marvin windows become clean, crisp picture frames that draw the eye outside. The home is the gallery, nature is the art.
“We were trying to create a very neutral interior backdrop against which you see the ever-changing foliage, the colors, the light, the shadows,” Schmaling.
Throughout the home, smaller, strategically placed windows are used to draw daylight into the interior spaces and individually frame curated views of the forest.
“We were on the inside, placing the windows to align with certain trees and frame the views we considered to be most striking,” Schmaling said.
Schmaling’s deference to views and nature is exemplified by the home’s orientation on the lot, as it’s situated to frame seasonal views of Lake Michigan through the Ultimate Casement windows—from the Marvin Signature Collection—in the master bedroom upstairs.
While the thinking behind the home and its architecture are unmistakably contemporary, Pleated House broadens the idea of what a modern home can be. Through its restrained, rustic exterior material palette, and highly contextualized and conceptual architecture, it defies broad-strokes categorization and rejects the antiseptic version of modern that comes immediately to mind. And despite its sensuous, flowing, pleated curtain exterior, this home allows nature to take the final curtain call.
The Pleated House project was the Best in Show winner in the 2018 Marvin Architects Challenge.
Name: Pleated House
Location: Door County, WI
Architect: Sebastian Schmaling
Firm: Johnsen Schmaling Architects