FROM THE NOMAD ARCHITECT (thenomadarchitect.blogspot.com)
This past weekend I happened to watch the Ken Burns Documentary Film on America's greatest architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Though I have read virtually every book by and about Wright and visited numerous houses and buildings designed by him, after watching this compelling documentary chronicling the life of this flawed genius, I decided to post about one of the most unique places we have ever stayed - The Seth Peterson Cottage in Mirror Lake Wisconsin.
First, a little history. This small 850 square foot gem was one of the last houses designed by Wright in 1958 when he was ninety. William Wesley Peters, Wright's son in law and trusted apprentice at Taliesen Fellowship and Studio, said the cottage "contained more architecture per square foot than any other building he knew". Sadly, this architectural work of art was never seen by Wright or Seth Peterson. Both died before it was finished. The cottage embodies all of the "organic" design principles espoused by Wright over his seventy plus year career. It is an amazing accomplishment, by America's greatest architect, that he even had time to design this small intimate cottage in the Wisconsin woods while designing major projects in the US and Europe.
Unfortunately, the house was sold, later abandoned and fell into disrepair. Fortunately, in the late 1980's, the run down building was discovered by a lover of architecture, Audrey Laatsch, who started a grass roots campaign to restore this work of the master architect. The full restoration was completed in 1992 at a cost of $300,000. The original 1958 budget was $15,000! The Seth Peterson Cottage Web Site has the complete, fascinating story of the history of this amazing little house. It also has reservation information. It is one of only a hand full of Wright designed houses you can actually stay in.
Upon visiting any Frank Lloyd Wright designed house, you come to realize that it transcends what any writer, critic, historian or architect can say about this amazing architect's work. My take, as an architect, is simple. Wright houses are ancient and modern at the same time, cave like but with intense light - structure and space so "organically" rendered that you just want to stay and enjoy the serenity of stone, wood and glass assembled to make a work of art. The Seth Peterson Cottage embodies all of these elements. Built on a bluff overlooking rural Mirror Lake in the Wisconsin Dells, it provides the perfect romantic getaway - an easy three hour drive from Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Another note here - I highly recommend making reservations for the cottage at least a year in advance.
Enough history, let's get on with the trip. After landing at O'Hare, we picked up the rental car and headed north to rural Wisconsin. Since the cottage is in a fairly remote area and restaurants are few and far between, we purchased enough food and wine for our three day stay at a local grocer and wine store near Mirror Lake. There are numerous options in the area, including a local Walmart that caters to Mirror Lake State Park visitors. The staff at the check in center have loads of information on this and other stores in the area. After picking up the key and getting directions to the cottage we enjoyed the beautiful spring day as we drove through the pastoral Wisconsin countryside.
Upon arriving at the Wright designed private gate to the cottage, there it was in the distance. This architectural masterpiece, by the greatest architect America has ever produced, was going to be ours for the next three days and nights. The massive stone fireplace and vertical core of the house, like so many designed by Wright, make the house appear as though it has been there since ancient times, yet it blends the flowing, horizontal stone forms that give it a modern, timeless quality. After entering the rather small doors (Wright was very small in stature), you see what William Wesley Peters was talking about. Every square inch of this intimate house is detailed as one flowing organic spacial composition. From the stone floors to the south facing glass wall to the sweeping built in sofa, it's all in order.
The mahogany ceiling of the main Living Space, with the massive stone fireplace at it's core, soars from a low of seven feet at the sofa to a height of twelve feet at the glass wall containing fretted mahogany frames and a continuous row of mahogany casement windows - all designed to let you enjoy the light and breeze from your seat on the sofa or one of the Wright designed plywood chairs around the fireplace. The Bedroom, with seven foot ceilings and eye level transom windows is like a small cocoon with views of the woods beyond. The only "modern" element of this restored gem is the stainless steel walled rain shower in the more than ample Bath. The small Kitchen is also well equipped with high end appliances and all the dinnerware, flatware and utensils you need to be your on gourmet. There is also an outdoor gas grill for the steaks.
In addition to the amazing interior, there is also a large stone terrace overlooking placid Mirror Lake a hundred feet below - the perfect spot to enjoy morning coffee with nature while sitting in the shadow of a modern classic. And you will not run out of things to do. There are ample outdoor activities in Mirror Lake State Park - hiking, canoeing and swimming in spring, summer and fall and cross country skiing in winter. It's also very cool knowing that you can enjoy the idyllic bliss of the Wisconsin countryside from your little house of stone, glass and wood by the one and only Frank Lloyd Wright. Staying in a work of art is something every Nomad should experience at some point in their travels. The Seth Peterson Cottage delivers on its promise as one of the truly unique sleeping experiences available to the vagabond wanderer looking for those Places To Sleep Before You Die.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the mandatory visit to Taliesen East, The Frank Lloyd Wright Estate in Spring Green, Wisconsin. This sprawling complex of Wright's family home, studio and school with barns, courtyards and other out buildings was built over many years by Wright and Taliesen apprentices to support a utopian vision of agrarian self sufficiency. Whether or not it worked is a subject for another day on another blog. But it is a must see for Wright aficionados.
And one last note - if you want to hang out in Chicago, the best big city in the USA, then by all means, stay at The James, a thoroughly cool hotel only steps away from the Magnificent Mile and a short cab ride to The Theatre District and The Art Institute of Chicago. The rooms are plush and completely modern with all amenities and the staff is amazing. The Joel Ross Room 28 Suitcase Sculpture in the lobby, featuring stacks of old vintage suitcases filled with all of the materials deconstructed from a motel room outside of Austin, Texas, is worth the price of admission. The other great piece of The James is The David Burke PrimeHouse Restaurant next door which serves Angus steaks from steers all sired form one bull. His name - you guessed it - Prime!
So, there you have it. If you want to take the one you love to one of the most fascinating and romantic places in a setting of unparalleled pastoral beauty, you will not go wrong with the Seth Peterson Cottage and you will always be secure in the knowledge that you have indeed slept with genius.
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