Private Retreat

Private Retreat in Buchanan, Michigan by Wheeler Kearns Architects, 2001

Chicago's Wheeler Kearns Architects is known for a consistent level of quality in design and construction in a diverse variety of projects, from residences and restaurants to a beach house and children's zoo. Each design responds to the particular project and client, so repetition of form and style is practically non-existent. Instead the signature of a Wheeler Kearns project is intimate, human-scaled spaces and simple detailing. Their design of a private retreat in Buchanan, Michigan, follows this signature, providing the owner a simple, intimate shelter in the woods.

Situated atop a knoll in Camp Madron, the single-level house contains approximately 2,000 sf between two long walls, one solid and one glass, the latter providing for a panoramic view of the surroundings. The roof plane hovers above the walls on glue-lam beams that span the short direction, allowing light through the transom windows between beams above the solid wall. Inside, another long wall bisects the space separating the formal living spaces from the private support spaces, the former adjacent to the glass wall.

Interior spaces are intimate in scale and consistent with a single floor plane and a single ceiling plane. This intimacy balances the dramatic view of the surrounding forest, compressed between the two man-made geometries. Balance also exists in the detailing, with the light storefront system countering the heavy cast-in-situ concrete, bisecting wall. The slightly off-center entry leads towards the hearth, an obvious allusion to that famous Chicago architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. In this retreat the spirit of Wright and Mies live side by side, the latter's influence apparent in the designs similarities to the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois.

Completed in 2001, this private retreat comes at a time when Wheeler Kearns has designed and built larger scale works. Instead of increasing staff and vying for higher-profile commissions, the firms intentionally stays small, to maintain a level of quality and an atmosphere which allows that quality to germinate.