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Compact Wisconsin Cabin with a Tower

Right in line with many of its other architectural designs, Milwaukee-based Johnsen Schmaling Architects designed this modern cabin in a remote forest of Muscoda, Wisconsin. Measuring just 880 sq. ft., what this compact house lacks in size, it more than makes up for in style. The hillside home is built into the slope, featuring a low-lying volume buried into the hill, connected to a tower overlooking the tree-covered valley below.

The tight budget meant the home had to be small and simple. To keep the home’s footprint small, the architects steered away from a traditional horizontal layout and opted instead for a stacked plan, organizing the communal living space, bathroom and tool shed vertically in the tower.
Now to the horizontal portion of this L-shaped layout. A small workshop, equipment storage, and a washroom are buried into the hillside, with direct access to the clearing through a wood-slatted door.
Above it, the living areas are awash in yellow, bringing vibrant pops of color to the dark facade through large windows and glass walls enclosing the main floor.
Above the lower-level utility areas, the open concept main living areas are full of natural light and views. The different living areas – kitchen, living and dining area, and sleeping “rooms” – can be divided simply by drawing the gauzy floor-to-ceiling curtains closed. These modular “walls” can be configured in a combination of ways, opening different areas onto each other while enclosing others, with the simple flick of the wrist.
The whole space is organized around a wood-burning fireplace, which is surely a hotspot of this home. Interiors have an earthy yet modern aesthetic, thanks to the massive wood-framed window walls on either side, polished concrete floors, and the comfortable yet stylish furniture selections.
The fully glazed walls allow for views right through the house, bringing living spaces right out into the landscape – a smart design feature that visually expands living areas beyond their limited square footage.
Built on a small clearing at the edge of a dense forest, this cabin home is surrounded by dense forest. This countryside backdrop for a contemporary style home is quite the contrast. When viewed from a distance, the home’s interiors pop against the earthy organic backdrop – like canaries sitting among the branches.
From the architects, “The meticulously detailed project takes advantage of readily available materials used in the region’s farmstead architecture. On the outside, exposed concrete, cedar, anodized metal, and cementitious plaster all echo the muted, earthy hues of the surrounding forest and rock formations. The material palette extends to the inside, where integrally colored polished concrete floors on the two main levels provide sufficiently durable surfaces against the periodic abuse from cross country skies, dogs, and muddy hiking boots. Walls, ceilings, and built-in cabinets are painted white, lightening up the interiors during the long winter months and providing a quiet, neutral foreground against which nature’s complex and ever-changing tableau, carefully framed by the cabin’s large openings, can unfold.”
This is how the house came together, piece by piece. The simple structure didn’t put too much pressure on the tight budget.
Johnsen Schmaling Architects


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