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Rusted Steel Studio Design

Tucked among the trees of Wisconsin’s countryside, this humble home designed by Johnsen Schmaling Architects houses a writing and recording studio for a Country Western musician, and a more suitable spot we could not foresee. Surrounded by nature, peace and quiet, this inspiring, earthy location leaves the artist only to his thoughts, and his songs. The structure is an ode to traditional Midwestern rural architecture, featuring a simple form, strong craftsmanship and a natural material palette to match. Despite its unassuming concept, the home has a contemporary style that sets it apart among its earthy surroundings.

Set on a concrete platform, a simple box boasts weathered metal roofing and walls, that looks like it landed here a hundred years ago. The deliberately discolored, rust-stained walls wrap the rectangular volume, with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling glass facades at either end, offering unobstructed views of nature and direct access into it.
The rusty exterior complements the beautiful red wood planks cladding the deck and spilling onto the floors inside.
The sliding glass doors open onto the porch, which is sheltered by the cantilevered roof and walls – the perfect spot to pull up a seat, strum and sing. The opposite side is also a glass face, flooding the space with natural light and views.
The simple, linear box doesn’t detract from the important elements of this space – nature outside, and music inside. The glazed walls let the lush surroundings into the cool, minimalist interiors.
The volume is carved into a steep hill, which provides storage space below, leaving the studio clean and clutter-free. While one side of the concrete base is buried entirely, the other end is exposed slope side. The top of the base features a garden, blending into the leafy landscape.
From the architects, “The building materials – exposed concrete and steel, glass, and wood – were locally sourced and chosen for their ability to age gracefully over time. The carefully detailed steel envelope, its warm color of ferrous corrosion echoing the hues of the derelict machinery left behind in the area’s abandoned farm fields, turns the building skin into an ever-changing canvas. Alloy imperfections, surface oils, and roller marks from the steel mill all leave their individual traces as the material weathers, juxtaposing the building’s strict geometry and formal restraint with a stubbornly unpredictable veneer.”
Between the steel top and the concrete base, a transparent, luminous layer creates the effect of floating off the ground. This clerestory floods the lower storage space with natural light, and by night it emits an eerie glow from within that’s visible through the trees.
Here are some renderings illustrating how this studio design came together:
There are three main elements to this simple structure – the steel envelope, the transparent “window” layer, and the concrete base which becomes the underground storage area.
Buried into the hill, the concrete base emerges on the slope side, topped by a garden. This diagram illustrates all the elements that went into this design. That’s right floors, windows, walls – everything. What you see is what you get.
A simple rectangle from the outside and inside, the straightforward box fits right into its earthy surroundings.
Johnsen Schmaling Architects


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