Name: Jennifer and Hugh
Who else lives here: Children Keith, Eric, and Julia, along with Jennifer's parents Charity and Moe
Location: Cross Plains, Wisconsin
Size: 4,200 square feet, incorporating living space for three generations of family, plus Hugh's home office. ("It’s not a house, it’s an industry," jokes Charity.)
Years lived in: owned for 22 years
This is a story of how two hearths can make one home. When Jennifer and Hugh bought their Wisconsin farmhouse 22 years ago, they were a young family looking for a place to establish roots. Over the next decade they slowly remodeled, refinishing doors and baseboards, scraping layers of linoleum to uncover maple floorboards in the kitchen. They installed a stunning Vermont Castings woodstove, which became the center of their cozy living room. They raised their children, planted gardens, and watched them both grow. And as the family evolved, so did their living space.
Thirteen years after Jennifer and Hugh purchased their home, Jennifer’s parents in Berkeley, California were striving to care for her paternal grandmother. “We thought if we helped share the care, it would be better for all concerned,” says Jennifer. They invited the two elder generations to move to the Midwest and, to accommodate them, built an environmentally conscious addition: one that would give everyone the benefit of togetherness, plus the privacy of their own space.
The couple's welcoming spirit and casual warmth is reflected in the layered, free-spirited style of the home. Family antiques and refurbished finds abound. The addition incorporates green insulation techniques, low-E windows, decking made of recycled materials, and reclaimed doors and hardware. Like the original farmhouse, the addition got a special hearth, too: a Finnish Tulikivi soapstone fireplace, which can heat the entire wing.
Separate living quarters and good sound buffering were "essential for harmonious cohabitation" says Jennifer. The family often dines together at the long teak table in the great room, but separate living spaces let them join or part as they see fit. The organic use of space has also allowed them to welcome exchange students and other visiting family members for months at a time.
My/Our style: Farmhouse homage to William Morris
Jennifer: I am a total Anglophile. If I could, I’d live in a big manor house in Surrey, England. (I have cousins who actually do!) And through my fascination with all things English, I have become a William Morris fanatic—not just his fabrics, wallpapers, and illuminated books, but also his philosophy. He believed that living with things that were both functional and beautiful was morally improving. He said, "Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."
Inspiration: The original farmhouse inspired the wide moldings, natural woods, and simple country feeling we wanted throughout the entire house; it guided the rehab of the old section and the design of the new addition.
How Three Generations Live Under One Roof: The old farmhouse has our master bedroom and the kids' bedrooms, plus a living room and the original kitchen. My parents have the new addition, and my mother has her own smaller kitchen (a must!). Their wing includes the great room, a study for my father (a semi-retired professor) and their master suite, plus guest rooms and an office for Hugh. My grandma was to have a handicapped-accessible suite on the ground floor; unfortunately, she passed away while the addition was being built, but we use the space for guests. A handicapped aunt was able to stay there for months at a time.
How Three Generations Survive Under One Roof: We are fortunate to have enough space for privacy. For most other issues, direct communication and early agreement about financial decisions pretty much eliminates problems. We have a joint bank account that covers all household expenses, and we each contribute in proportion to the number of family members, and that’s made accounting easy.
Benefits to Living Together: I’m pretty confident that what my parents like best is getting to really know their grandchildren and see them on a daily basis. For my kids, even though they have two working parents, they can come home after school and almost always get home-cooked meals. That’s one of the main benefits for me, too!
- The Tulikivi soapstone fireplace. Before reaching the chimney, the hot smoke runs through a 20-foot soapstone channel, which absorbs most of the heat and then slowly releases it out into the room. A two-hour burn will heat the whole wing for 24 hours.
- The Vermont Castings woodstove. It has a high-efficiency burn mode and can heat the entire old farmhouse in the middle of winter.
- The recycled redwood deck off of the living room. The floorboards are 90-year-old redwood and were originally bleachers in University of Wisconsin’s football stadium. They were torn out in the early 1990s. When we bought them they were black with age, but we had them planed and now they’re in perfect condition. They are stained for protection, but we left a few seat numbers visible, if you know where to look.
Biggest Challenge: Designing the new addition. We did all the architectural design work ourselves, including elevations and floor plans, window and material specifications, cabinets design, etc. (Our contractor made the technical decisions about headers, trusses, and load-bearing points.)
What Friends Say: Those who saw the modest, run-down farmhouse in its early days can hardly believe the transformation.
Biggest Embarrassment: There is a low window right beside a toilet on the second floor that overlooks the driveway. Most people prefer more privacy, so when we have overnight guests, I hang a scarf in front of the window!
Proudest DIY: Designing the new addition (see above under “Biggest Challenge”)
Biggest Indulgence: We had wanted a Tulikivi fireplace for at least 10 years. They are designed in Finland and imported, then shipped in pieces and constructed onsite. They are so heavy they need their own footing in the foundation. The soapstone stays warm for 20+ hours, yet unlike cast iron it never gets too hot to touch.
Best Advice We Received:
- Insulate the new wing as heavily as you can. The new wing is so much warmer than the old wing in the winter, and we rarely need to run the A/C in the summer.
- While the walls are open, wire the house with Cat-5 cable for telecommunications.
- My favorite green element is the old farmhouse. When we bought it, it was pretty rundown and a lot of people, including the real estate agent, urged us to tear it down and rebuild. But its foundation was in excellent shape, and its roof was new. It has a charm and warmth you just can’t recreate. We spent 10 years fixing it up. It was a ton of work, but I’m so glad we kept it!
- The insulation in the new wing, which is made of chopped up recycled newspaper. It works great!
- The walnut floor in the great room is FSC certified (Forest Stewardship Council), sustainably and locally harvested.
- Cork floor tiles in new kitchen and bathroom
- The boards on the new wing’s deck. They’re made of compressed sawdust and recycled milk jugs.
- Low-E, argon-filled windows throughout the house and the south-facing angle of the new wing maximize passive solar gain in the winter and minimize heat gain in summer.
Fireplaces: Tulikivi; Vermont Castings
Appliances: An LG front-loading washer that’s super-efficient and a Bosch dishwasher that’s also very efficient and quiet.
Hardware: Home Depot, antique shops
Furniture: Arts and Crafts sofa from Stevens Design, a locally owned store specializing in domestically built furniture; antique Stickley Brothers rocker; the rest previously owned, including some family heirlooms.
Paint: Hallman Lindsay
Flooring: Nonn’s Design Showplace (carpet and tile in new wing); Timbergreen Farm (walnut and oak in new wing); original maple (in old wing)
(Thanks, Jennifer, Hugh, Charity, and Moe!)
Interested in sharing your home with Re-Nest? Contact our editors through our Green Tour Submission Form.
(Images: Therese Maring)