Samantha and Ron's Tranquil Oasis

Samantha and Ron's Tranquil Oasis

Therese Maring
Apr 28, 2010

Name: Samantha and Ron
Location: Dane County, Wisconsin
Size: 3,000 square feet
Years lived in: 4 years, owned

When a horticulturist and a LEED-accredited landscape architect design a home, it's not surprising that it's green. While you'd expect creativity and a sense of whimsy, it may be surprising what materials are used…and how. Greenhouse siding is transformed into translucent door panels, bowling balls become garden sculptures, and assorted other re-purposable treasures are found at Phil's Tractor and Supply.

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Such is the case with Samantha and Ron, a Wisconsin couple who built a home that combines the rural feel of timber-frame styling with clean, modern elements and artifacts collected from their travels to Asia and India.

"We had been interested in sustainable design since the 1970s, when passive and active solar was beginning its popularity," says Samantha, who designed the house. When Ron wanted to move his business to a more peaceful location, the couple found a property where they could build both an eco-friendly home and commercial greenhouses. A farmette in tear-down condition provided the perfect site, and a year's worth of demolition provided many reusable materials.

A state rebate program and federal tax credits made green options more affordable. The house has a solar hot-water system and radiant in-floor and baseboard heating. Clerestory windows and strategically placed overhead fans allowed Samantha and Ron to avoid installing air-conditioning all together. The couple kept overall costs down by being their own general contractors and having Ron do much of the construction during his off season.

Being passionate collectors and scavengers, the couple was also happy to have a place to use rescued items, including maple flooring from the old farmhouse, salvaged timber, and bricks from an old Rayovac factory. The guest bath proved the perfect place to finally use marble tiles that Samantha had salvaged 10 years earlier from a mall reconstruction.

And, as garden lovers, they would of course find creative ways to bring the outside in. The house was designed with two-story spaces that allow for the wintering of several of Ron's large tropical plants. With exposed beams, oversized greenery, and colorful Asian furnishings, the home radiates a warmth that reflects the personality of these global travelers.

Re-Nest Survey:

My/Our style: The melding of contemporary Asian with Wisconsin timber-frame barn. We wanted a home that felt like we were always on holiday.

Inspiration: We came from Wisconsin farming and California ranching backgrounds. Our current professions in horticulture and landscape architecture allow us to have a daily connection with the land, site planning, and sustainable efforts. In addition, we travel internationally as often as possible. We especially appreciate the cultural experiences of the Asian countries we have visited.

Favorite Element: On our 7.5 acres, we were able to integrate a home, ornamental and vegetable gardens, and our horticultural growing business in a way that we think is beautiful, sustainable, and affordable.

Biggest Challenge: When we purchased the farmette, the existing seven buildings were beyond their useful life span. Completing all of the work ourselves, we spent the first year salvaging, recycling, and demolishing the structures before we could move ahead with our construction.

What Friends Say: Our friends tell us that they experience a feeling of peaceful contentment when visiting our home and strolling through the garden.

Proudest DIY: We accomplished the reclaiming of the property on our own, with the help of RobertoCat, our Bobcat skid-loader. We were also the general contractor of our project and did much of the structural building and interior development.

Biggest Indulgence: Even with our energy-efficient heating system, consisting of an EPA-rated wood-burning fireplace with blower and radiant hot water in-slab and baseboard system, we decided to install a small gas fireplace with remote control in our master bedroom to enjoy while reading in the evening.

Best Advice Received: We did everything our master builder, Jim, recommended. He said that over the years he had made all the possible building mistakes so that we were able to avoid them.

Best Advice for Anyone Who Wants to Build a Green Home: Hire contractors who have prior experience in sustainable construction but are willing to try new things.

Green Elements/Initiatives: Materials for our development were collected, found, and salvaged from all over the region, including structural timbers and lumber from old Chicago warehouses and an abandoned building in Rockford, brick from a demolished building in Madison, maple flooring from the farmhouse on the property, odds and ends from local salvage yards, and landscaping boulders from farm fields. We also incorporated solar technology in the form of solar hot water for the home.

Favorite Green Element: We removed the maple flooring from the old farmhouse for the purpose of reinstalling it in the new house. When it came to installation time, there were many unusable pieces, and we realized there wasn't enough material to finish our bedroom floor. Ron finally happened across maple flooring at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore that had been removed from a farmhouse about six miles away from our place. It appears we were destined to have this beautiful old flooring in our new home.

Future Green Goals:We would eventually like to incorporate wind or solar electricity.


Landscaping: Ron enjoys collecting and propagating tropical plants. We have a large collection of palm trees, hibiscus, and agaves that are displayed in the garden during summer. Two-story open spaces are designed into our home to house the specimen tropical varieties during the winter. This offers us the feeling of living in the tropics throughout the year, even when there is snow on the ground.

Appliances: Solar panels and hot water tank from Full Spectrum Solar, Madison, Wisconsin

Salvage Yard: Anich Lumber and Pal Steel, Palmyra, Wisconsin

Furniture: We discovered two large Asian cabinets in San Francisco's Chinatown. It was more cost effective to buy them there and have them shipped to the Midwest than to purchase pieces in Chicago. Artasia Gallery in Milwaukee is another terrific place to find an amazing selection of Asian furniture and artifacts.

Accessories: The two-story space in the stairwell is designed to display the masks collected from many of the countries we've visited. Our textile collection (also gathered on travels) is distributed throughout the home as wall hangings or used as functional items. Many miscellaneous accessories were collected while traveling to Asia, South America, and Africa. We want to thank the many flight attendants who helped us stow away the odd-shaped and fragile pieces.

Lighting: Madison Lighting. We told them we needed really unique lighting but only wanted to spend "this much." They were really great at finding interesting pieces that worked in our budget.

Rugs and Carpets: Several hand-woven durry rugs were collected in Jodhpur, India. They can be purchased directly from the Roopraj Durry artisan cooperative and shipped to the USA. We recommend this email address rather than the one listed on their site:

Tiles and Flooring: Bamboo flooring and two-inch plywood from Eco-Friendly Flooring. Reclaimed maple flooring and assorted stone pieces from Habitat for Humanity Restore in Madison. The marble floor tiles in the guest bath were salvaged from a dumpster at a mall-remodeling job in Chicago, thanks to a friend who worked for a tile installation company.

Paint: On the colored walls we used Ralph Lauren textured paint in Suede and River Rock finishes.

Other: Timber-frame construction by Glenville Timberwrights in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

(Thanks, Samantha and Ron!)

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(Images: Dining and wide living-room by Samantha. All other images by Therese Maring)

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