Name: Laura, Andrew, and Gaia Braman-Wanek
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Size: 2,500 square feet, including a tenant’s apartment and a home office
Years lived in: 3 years, owned
It’s not often that an undeveloped lot becomes available in an established urban neighborhood—especially a lot across from a scenic park and lagoon. When architect Andrew Braman-Wanek saw a "Buildable Lot" sign in front of an old garage on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin, "it was an opportunity too juicy to resist," he says. Andrew and his wife Laura decided to purchase the property and build an eco-friendly home.
But an urban infill project has its challenges. The neighboring houses were built between 1910 and 1930, and Andrew and his wife Laura prefer a modern aesthetic. The sloped site overlooks the park, but is also narrow and faces a busy, noisy street.
The solution? Andrew designed a house that bridges the transition between contemporary and traditional. "The design is based on a simple, street-facing gable with a side wing," he says, "which is a common vernacular in this neighborhood." The gables, however, are asymmetrical, giving the home a modern feel. The stucco exterior and paint colors are influenced by historic homes nearby. The interior gives glimpses of the park from all parts of the house, and a solid railing on the front porch conveniently shields views of the traffic.
Inside, the light-filled house is soothing and serene. Expanses of smooth bamboo paneling flow into bamboo flooring. A pellet stove warms the family room; in the winter, one of Andrew’s favorite things is hearing the swishing blades of ice skaters who glide on the frozen lagoon. In warmer months, cross breezes blow through the home’s many windows. The three window seats get plenty of use from daughter Gaia and the inquisitive dogs, Winnie and Tutter.
To make the most of the narrow lot, the couple opened up the home’s attic space, creating useable areas with built-in storage. The lower level of the house includes an efficiency apartment for a tenant. Because Andrew used a variety of green building techniques and materials, the house is Energy Star certified.
Laura and Andrew couldn’t be more pleased with their move. It has allowed them to embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle in ways that go beyond choices of building materials. As an added bonus, the family has drastically reduced their car use by living on a bus line in a walkable (and sometimes skate-able) city neighborhood.
My/Our style: contemporary
Inspiration: a modern aesthetic within a traditional neighborhood.
Favorite Element: framed views of the lagoons from many of the windows.
Biggest Challenge: the sloped narrow site and street traffic.
What Friends Say: It’s a great house for entertaining—both for small, intimate gatherings as well as large parties.
Biggest Embarrassment: When I give tours of the house, I find myself pointing out things that aren’t done yet. As an architect who designed his own home, I feel a little extra pressure for it to be a showplace. But the fact is I took on a lot of the finish work myself; that has allowed me to experiment with materials, both successfully and unsuccessfully. It also means that it takes more time to finish, and time is limited with a family and a business.
Proudest DIY: The tiling! It may be imperfect, but I’m proud of it.
Biggest Indulgence: Having a double vanity in the master bath, but it’s the key to a good marriage.
- Panelized construction, which eliminates waste by allowing framing to be laid out in the most efficient manner
- 8-inch thick walls with blow-in blanket (BIBS) insulation
- Energy Star windows and appliances
- Long-lasting low-maintenance siding (stucco and cement board)
- Low-flow plumbing fixtures
- RIKA pellet stove
- Energy-efficient lighting
- Tiles on the kitchen backsplash and shower floors are made of 100% recycled glass. The powder-room tiles are recycled aluminum.
- Bamboo flooring and walls with formaldehyde-free adhesives
- Low VOC paints
Favorite Green Element: The metal roof. It looks great, reflects heat and will last forever.
Future Green Goals: We’re working on expanding our rain gardens and planning a raised garden.
Appliances: The dishwasher is by Asko; it’s very quiet and efficient. We didn’t put in a garbage disposal because we compost.
Ceiling Fans: Modern Fan Company. We put one in every bedroom, which is one reason we rarely run the a/c.
Furniture: Bamboo dining-room table by Room and Board
Tiles: The tiles made of recycled materials are from Eco-Friendly Flooring in Madison.
Window Treatments: The blinds are PVC-free and recyclable, from Select Blinds.
Paint: Sherwin-Williams Harmony low VOC line.
Flooring: The bamboo is by Plyboo
Design: GinkgoHouse Architecture
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(Images: Therese Maring)