Lawless Retreat: A Weekend Retreat with Panoramic Nature Views

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Searl Lamaster Howe Architects has designed a second home for a Chicago couple in Jones, Michigan. Lawless Retreat is a weekend retreat with panoramic nature views that sits on a strip of land with a valley and a small creek at its center.



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For five years, the clients had searched across four states to find a perfect site for a weekend home. They finally found this retreat that is to be everything that their Chicago residence is not. It is a lofted space that sits within the attic trusses of a converted church.

Located in the heart of the bustling Wicker Park neighborhood, the loft has a highly curated collection of sleek European contemporary furnishings inspired by a sanctuary idea with a modern sensibility. The loft’s views of the downtown skyline can give a sense of privacy in the dense neighborhood.



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The defining feature of this home is the progression from the shaded and low-slung front porch through the structure of the house ending with the living room’s expansive view into the woods.

Following the site’s terrain, there is a pair of glulam beams along the house’s length that can reinforce a sense of order and movement as the interior floor levels terrace down. A three-foot module is used to instill a sense of overall unity and lay out the house.



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Obsidian lap siding and cedar are materials used to define the exterior. In other contexts, a black house might be defined by its bold distinctiveness, serving as a quiet background to the mixed greenery that envelopes the site: maple, oak, cedar, aspen, and ash trees.



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Inside, there are black slate floors that give an organic texture to the organizing module. The untreated cedar roof overhangs extended inside while a warm glow comes from a series of barely visible suspended light fixtures. The home’s cabinetry is made of untreated cedar and built by local craftsmen.

The master bedroom and kitchen are oak-dye stained in a deep green. From the outside, the charred cedar reappears at the main fireplace. The ash steps in the three-storey stairwell wrap around an ebonized oak screen.


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The dark tree trunks are the character of the site that influenced the contrast of the stairwell’s white walls to the spaced screen battens.

The primary bathroom has main windows that overlook the trees and a small deck. There is a skylight in this bathroom’s shower that can highlight the handmade tiles on the walls.



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This project is also designed by considering the ecology of the site and minimizing the impact of the house on the site.

The house structure is placed strategically to stand clear of any mature trees. Mechanical cooling requirements can be minimized during the summer and the reach of daylight into the house in the winter can be maximized thanks to the broad roof overhangs.

There is a geothermal-powered water furnace that conditions this house. There are also geothermal wells that are positioned carefully to avoid any damage to the house’s site.

Rot resident cement board lap siding is selected to minimize maintenance and extend the longevity of the material, as well as the charred treatment of the cedar on the exterior.

The final result of this project is a compact house without any wasted space.


Lawless Retreat Gallery

Photographer: Tony Soluri