The cold waters of the small lake beside this property keep the Austin family who owns it returning year after year. Wisconsin Bathhouse is the newest freestanding addition to a summer home, one that’s designed to stay resilient amid the subzero temperatures of its namesake's winters.
A recently renovated 1960s vintage A-frame, handbuilt by the owner's grandfather, was onsite before work on the bathhouse began. Including only a kitchen and sleeping quarters, the existing structure lacked essential modern facilities–most notably a laundry room and space for remote work.
Wisconsin Bathhouse fulfills the family’s needs by supplementing the A-frame's offerings. The new structure features a large, spa-like bathroom, a sauna, two offices, a screened porch, and a loft. Rather than tearing the original A-frame down and starting from scratch, by adding a second structure, Plural and the owners ensured this new project would be on track to maintain a minimal carbon footprint, even as they embarked on new work.
Most of Wisconsin Bathhouse's large picture windows face north, toward a coniferous forest bathed in soft light and glowing colors of mosses and lichen. The southern end of the structure houses the bathing facilities, including the sauna and outdoor shower. Clerestory windows in these spaces offer lines of sight to the lake, while also maintaining privacy.
The low shed roof follows the surrounding landscape's descent to the lake, creating harmony between the structure's scale and its natural context. In keeping with the design of the existing A-frame, Wisconsin Bathhouse's exterior is composed of shou-sugi-ban cedar–wood that’s undergone a Japanese process of charring to make it more weather resistant. The soffits, formed instead from natural cedar, provide a light contrast. The foundation is a board-formed concrete stem wall base.
Wisconsin Bathhouse features a series of water-oriented elements, including a bathing room, outdoor shower, and sauna. Together with the lake, these components provide all the essentials for a complete spa experience. After moving from the shower to the sauna, bathers have the option of reaping full health and thereaputic benefits by stepping off the porch and into the lake for a cold plunge. The porch also connects to the courtyard on the north side of the A-frame, which provides family and friends space to congregate.
Properties like this one, in stunning and serene natural settings, have an imperative to preserve the environments they inhabit. That’s why Wisconsin Bathhouse employs sustainable features wherever possible. Its dark palette promotes solar heat gain inside the home in the winter. At the same time, the high-performing windows, with their triple-paned structure, retain maximal heat. These design considerations equate to lower energy bills and less operational carbon emissions. The burden of heating the house during harsh Wisconsin winters is shared, in other words, between the HVAC system–a ductless mini-split heat pump–and the home’s strategic leveraging of the sun’s rays.