Green Tour: A Barn Inspired Wisconsin Retreat

Name: Carol & Dave
Location: Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
Size: 2600 sq/ft
Years lived in: 2 years owned

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I’ve had the great pleasure of spending a beautiful, long weekend at this vacation home. It’s peaceful, inspirational, and modern example of sustainable architecture. The house, located in the Sturgeon Bay area of Door County, Wisconsin was designed as a green getaway for a Chicago family, with the idea of a future permanent residence for retirement.


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From start to finish the family and their architect, Nathan Kipnis, strove to make their home as green as possible, with the least amount of impact on the site. All the new landscaping are native species, and the ground cover is ‘No Mow’ grass that only needs to be cut once a year.

The house is situated on a heavily wooded lot with clear views to the east towards Lake Michigan, and a private patio facing the woods to the west. Taking a cue from tradition barns, the house is a version of the classic barn form, optimized for ventilation in the summer. The dramatically curved sloping roofs assist the house in cross ventilation, pulling fresh air in from the bottom windows, and flushing stale interior air out of the remote-controlled clerestory windows at the high roof tower. Ceiling Fans are located in every room to facilitate air circulation and cooling. Because of these features air-conditioning in the summer isn’t needed.

During the winter the home is heated in two ways: the first is zoned radiant floor heating, and the second is a wood burning stove centrally located in the home used on extra cold days. Additionally an air-to-air heat exchanger is used to transfer heat from the stale exhausted air to fresh incoming air.

Other green features include Energy Star rated appliances, low & no-VOC finishes, compact fluorescent lights, bamboo cabinetry and Teragren bamboo flooring, concrete countertops, and Terra Green recycled glass tiles. Local materials were sourced (within 500 miles) as often as possible, and scrap and extra material was reused or recycled. The insulation system consists of a combination of blow-in cellulose and foam Insoylation, and recycled denim batt insulation in the interior walls for sound.

The home has received a 5+ Energy Star Rating – the highest possible.

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AT Survey:

My/Our style: Casual and contemporary.

Inspiration: We've always liked the idea of passive solar, although our original thought was to build something that resembled a wilderness lodge with a lot of stone. That wound up being a bit at odds with our love for contemporary, so that style won out in the end.

Favorite Element: The view!

Favorite Green Element: The connection between the tile flooring and the passive solar aspects.

Biggest Challenge: Incorporating the home into the landscape. In hindsight we could have saved more trees and native plants, but we are adding those grasses and flowers back in now to help the home 'fit in' to the rest of the neighborhood.

What Friends Say: Do you get there often?

Biggest Embarrassment: The color chosen for the exterior (Benjamin Moore Spanish Red) turned out to be the exact shade of the cottage next door.

Proudest DIY: We didn't do much ourselves – we delegated to professionals. However, we probably have the most organized garage in Sturgeon Bay thanks to Elfa shelving purchased at the Container Store.

Biggest Indulgence: The sauna in the bathroom (keeps us warm during the winter!)

Best advice received: We told friends we were interested in 'green' and that led to several recommendations of architects who were experienced in that design. I can't imagine embarking on a project like this (especially 5 years ago) without partnering with an architect who creates a plan with green in mind. In our case, that was Nate Kipnis and his great staff.

Best advice you'd give to anyone trying to green their home: Use the Internet to investigate the myriad of green options out there. There are several constructions suppliers now that specialize in green materials and can serve as 'one stop shopping' like Greenmaker in Chicago.

Future Goals: Add a bedroom on the first floor. When family visits, bedtime is crowded. We also hope to add solar panels when we live there often enough to justify the expense. As it is, our electric bill averages $27/month.

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Appliances: All the appliances are Energy Star. Jenn-Air in the kitchen, except the microwave/convection oven is by Sharp. The front-loading washer and dryer is by Frigidaire. The solar tubes in the bathroom are by Solatube.

Furniture: Room and Board, with exception of coffee table, foyer chest and kitchen chest that were custom made by Ron Fisher Furniture in Iowa.

Landscaping: Native plants in front and off deck; No Mow grass in back.

Lighting: Emerson fans in all living areas; Modern Fans in vent tower; Juno pendants in kitchen, as well as track lights. Many fixtures are florescent - which was a particular challenge to find 5 years ago.

Rugs and Carpets: Room and Boar

Tiles and Stone: Terra Green recycled glass tile in bathrooms; Island Stone pebble tile in kitchen, selected and purchased through our interior designer, Ann Hooe.

Window Treatments: HunterDouglas shades - the ones in the living area are very nice - they let light in but offer privacy.

Artwork: A collection of photographs by David Klobucar and artwork purchased in Hawaii and Caribbean. We also have quite a few objects by our two daughters.

Paint: Benjamin Moore Eco Spec low-VOC

Flooring: Teragren bamboo, slate tile (both tile and bamboo floor were purchased and installed by Jobelius Tile in Green Bay)

(Thanks, Carol & Dave!)

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Rachel is an Chicago-based architect and LEED Accredited Professional. When she's not designing homes, she enjoys spending her free time traveling, gardening, and playing with her french bulldog.