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The Chenequa Residence


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Marrying Natural Elements in a Home  

Architect Robert Harvey Oshatz is acclaimed for his ability to design structures that are inspired by their settings and at one with the environment around them.

The Chenequa residence, located on the outskirts of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, wraps around the face of a hill and pivots through stands of old growth oak. The home is deeply influenced by the surrounding landscape and melds stone, stained concrete, glass, metal, as well as exotic and domestic woods seamlessly throughout its interior and exterior spaces.

When conceiving the design for the residence, the homeowners emphasized the importance of using natural materials and preserving all of the existing trees on the site. They wanted a family-friendly home that would be elegant yet comfortable and sturdy enough for a family of six.

Architect Robert Oshatz selected the home’s palette of materials based on functionality, beauty, complementarity and ties to the natural environment. Among the primary materials used in the interior of the house were hemlocks to texturize the ceilings, Idaho quartz which sends out a radiant shimmer from the home’s core, and stained concrete, which imparts an earthy organic look to the floors.

Jatoba : The Perfect Complement

Oshatz then found the perfect complement to these materials in Jatoba (Hymenaea courbaril) wood. All of the interior cabinets, trim work, doors and window mullions in the residence are fashioned from Brazilian Jatoba. “Jatoba had the aesthetics I was seeking for this home,” said Oshatz. “It complements all the other elements without creating a busy look or distracting from the beauty and resonance of the overall space.”

Jatoba, like its cousin Ipe, is prized for its hardness, density and strength. Also known as Brazilian Cherry, the wood has a rich brown color and a linear interlocking grain that sets off the home’s sienna-red finished concrete floors, light colored stonework and hemlock ceilings. “Its warm, subdued tone and quiet grain complemented the other natural elements and made it an ideal solution,” said Oshatz.

“Jatoba is also extremely hard, scratch resistant and durable,” he noted. “And that’s important in a household with four lively young children.” The Jatoba was so hard, that the mullions between the large glass panes of the exterior door and window faces had to be specially engineered in order to not strip the assembly hardware.

A Visually Interactive Residence

The use of floor-to-ceiling glass panels ensures that the 

residences magnificent lake views can be seen from within. Oshatz built into the site using a radial plan consisting of a series of independent radii. The primary radius spans the contours of the site, following a path that maintains a convex aspect to the lake and skirts all the existing trees. Each subsequent radius is related so that the spaces are simultaneously logical, free flowing and harmonious.

The interior of the home extends outward from a central atrium which is anchored by a cylindrical stone core. A cantilevered staircase clad in Jatoba wraps around the core, and the home radiates out from there with elements of stone, metal, hemlock and additional accents of Jatoba.

The main entrance to the residence on the second of its three floors affords access to a great room, dining room and kitchen, and provides breathtaking views of the lake. The floor plan extends through the kitchen and onto a deck overlooking the garden. The lower floor is a private family area where a game room, study, theater room, guest room and children’s bedrooms offer warmth and security. The top level is occupied by a master suite and a nursery.

At first glance, the house appears to be small, as its skip-stepping roof and spiraling stone columns conceal its height and belie its size. Oshatz used the geometry of the house to alternately veil and expose various parts of the structure, creating interest while disguising its scale.

The flow of space between the interior and the exterior of the Chenequa residence was designed to be visually interactive. The balanced use of natural stone, domestic and exotic woods, large glass panes and stained concrete all contribute to the poetic character, spirit and energy of this unique structure.

Architecture as Poetry

“Every site has its own character, and the architect’s challenge is to capture that character and translate its spirit into architectural poetry,”

Oshatz says. “The starting point of my work is the client’s program, including both its functional and spiritual components. A design program should embody the emotional needs of the client and user. I see architecture as a synthesis of logic and emotion, exploring and fulfilling the dreams, fantasies and realities of my clients.”

“There must be surprise, mystery, beauty and delight; elements that make architecture rewarding to its users for a lifetime,” he says. “This is one of the primary differences between architecture and building. It is the architect's responsibility to go beyond the mere program and into the realm of the spiritual.”
The Chenequa residence celebrates the magnificence and poetry of its environment and the authentic beauty of the elements used in its construction. With the generous use of natural materials, powerful geometry, clean lines and uncluttered spaces, the home is stunningly contemporary. Yet at its heart, the Chenequa residence is a home for a family. The house provides connections to the exterior, but is warm, comfortable and inviting. The Chenequa residence reminds us that human beings are innately tied to the natural world, and that it is a rich and rewarding place in which to live. 

Robert Osh atz, Archi tect — The firm of Robert Harvey Oshatz, Architect, based in Portland, Oregon, provides organic architectural, planning, interior design and construction management services for developers and individual clients. Since 1971, Robert Oshatz has designed and built numerous commercial and residential projects throughout the country. Oshatz is also active as a speaker at public lectures and architectural gatherings.


Special Thanks to Photographer, Cameron R. Neilson