Joe's Industrial Milwaukee Retreat

House Tour

Name: Joe Locher
Location: Milwaukee
Size: Two spaces, 3,000 sq ft each
Years lived/worked in: 1 year

What do you get when you take three creative artists, an old cream city brick hardware company building, abandoned industrial hardware, redwood forest scrap wood and passion for design? You get an amazing work-live space that inspires more of the creativity that built it. Joe Locher, founder of the "anti-agency" Yes Men is launching a fresh venture and designed a new space in which to house it, in collaboration with tenant woodwork artists Jordan Waraksa and Joe Wagner.

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The Pritzlaff Building in Milwaukee's third ward district dates back to the mid-1800s and is a classic example of the cream city brick warehouse that the city is known for. Pritzlaff once housed the Midwest's largest hardware distributor and sits in a highly accessible spot on the river downtown. The building now houses a 2,300 sq ft woodworking studio, and two work-live spaces (one upstairs, one downstairs) the homes of Lyrical and The Ancient Tree Underground - new business ventures being launched by the building owner and his talented tenants.

Industrial loft spaces are well known for their layout challenges; the flip side of all that luxurious square footage and open space. Joe has tackled that challenge by piecing together discarded warehouse windows to form interior walls, and he has filled the space with furniture and other items that have a certain heft or presence. But what is most striking about the place is the combination of influences. Joe has employed a unique blend of mid-century pieces, retro desks, fans and vintage cars with Zen-like Japanese-inspired bamboo screens ... all complemented by shelving made from redwood forest scraps, coerced into shape by Waraksa. To top it all off? How about an absinthe bar? It would be baffling if it wasn't so bold and beautiful. In the end, it makes you grin at the sheer ambition of it all.

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Of course, the danger of getting caught up in the scale of things is that you might miss the details. In the downstairs loft, posters grace the wall behind a 1950s metal desk. At first glance, they appear to be enlarged bank notes. A second look reveals the faces not of former presidents, but of characters from The Godfather. In the upstairs space, a golden Griffin guards the entrance to a corner library. Rescued from the city's Mitchell Building, the crumbling, unwanted Griffin now guards the "gold," as griffins are purported to do, only in this case, he guards books. And then a tiny detail - in the upstairs bathroom, towels bear the affirmative "YES" of Joe's agency's name.

"Yes" is an appropriate moniker for a creative business owned by a man who decorates with this kind of bravado, and who nurtures the talent of young artists renting the space below.

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Apartment Therapy Survey:

Joe's style: Authentic Not contrived. Look at what the building wants to be, nudge it further in that direction.
Inspiration: Roman and Williams, Katsura Imperial Villa, the Bat cave, Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, Hector Guimard, George Mann Niedecken, Frank Lloyd Wright, George Nakashima, "The Shadow Gallery" in V for Vendetta, Sanctum Sanctorum of Dr Strange, Dr. No's Crab Key Island, The Return of Mr X (graphic novel by Gilbert Hernandez).
Favorite Element: The library, crow cabinets.
Biggest Challenge: Moving the oversized heavy objects; the boxcar door and teak table both weigh more than 1,000 pounds and are larger than the freight elevator.
What Friends Say: "Where do you find the time?"
Biggest Embarrassment: Dirty windows. But the views are bad, anyway. It's probably best to stay away from the windows.
Proudest DIY: Sourcing the rare, exotic and vintage materials.
Biggest Indulgence: Square footage.
Best advice: Don't be tentative. Don't worry about trends and established styles or what others are doing.
Dream source: Nature.

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Resources: oldegoodthings.com, slingluffphoto.com, littletreestudio.com.

Thanks Joe!

(Images: Elizabeth Setterfield)