Approached to design and implement a new estate on the shores of Lake Geneva, Pierce Builders, Lake Geneva, Wis., began this transformation by turning a late ’80s masonry detached structure into an English cottage name The Hollow. With a home and a detached structure on the property, the plan was to remove the existing home to create a new primary residence, and tie into the new home the detached structure, currently used as a garage, an exercise area and home office. Working with one of its design partners, Pierce Builders created a way to bring this project into view.
The primary home is based off an English manor style of architecture. It is a fairly grand sized home both in scale and footprint. Keeping true to the English theme, Pierce Builders wanted the out buildings to be as such as well. Between the designers and builders, they came up with the Cotswold look as a nice complement to the primary house being built.
The best design lead in this case, was the homeowner. The homeowner did a very good job of researching as well as the architect and Pierce Builders. The homeowner came up with a picture of a home, and immediately the architect and Pierce could run with that concept rather quickly.
The homeowners did have a couple of requests though. First, the team was asked to make the masonry structure blend with the surrounding trees and forestry. While converting the detached structure into an English countryside style building, the interior of the building needed to be designed as an entertaining area for guests and friends.
Second, the team needed to stay as historically accurate as possible on the budget given, which included building the exterior to appear as if aged by time to create a notable replica by installing all natural exterior products. The team would also have to custom fabricate as many items as possible to achieve a true “one of a kind” building.
“It was a goal to drive onto the estate and at first, not to see the entertainment home, and second, when you see the entertainment home not to see the primary home,” says David Pierce, president of Pierce Builders. “That was a bit of the design challenge. We had to fit in a road and maintain a hidden view. Although we had 3.5 acres to work with the lot is only 127 ft. wide.”
The team changed the topography of the land to accommodate the structure to blend and hide it into the hills they created.
This would allow them to pull off this project from a conceptual picture to a final product.
The first tough problem was getting the brick off. The outside remodel of the structure began by taking the exterior down to the original cinder block building and then adding a modern brown coat. After that, the team switched to lime-based traditional stucco to re-create the staining and the time period look. The final was a blend of stucco and stone.
“I’m pretty adamant about making something look as historically accurate as possible,” explains Pierce. “So the design challenge on the outside was to get the stones at a lower level in depth than the stucco. The true European version of this type of structure is a stone house with stucco applied to patch and repair. As stucco falls off, it exposes the stone below again. Unfortunately, I see bad renditions done when the stone is at a higher level than the stucco. It is easier to do in today’s methods but not accurate.”
The second problem would be to hold up all the spancrete floors and make some pretty severe window and door alterations throughout the structure. One of the coolest things the team added to the detached structure was the old front door to the existing home. Because they weren’t able to save the original home, Pierce tried to save as much as they could from the old home including a pine tongue and groove door from 1932 with Tiffany glass in it.
“We were able to take that door down, rebuild it, reshape it, shrink it, and use the original hardware and the original Tiffany glass,” explains Pierce. “That is how the front door to The Hollow came to be.”
Pierce Builders had to get plumbing, electrical and HVAC in and out of masonry without being seen. That in itself creates issues. They didn’t want to lose any internal floor space so they only padded the exterior walls with 2 in. of material, but still had to maintain the heating efficiency.
Pierce teamed with Astro Insulation to create a high level insulation value. Pierce feels the electricians, plumbers and the heating contractor did a masterful job on his behalf by not allowing any of this to be seen within the structure. The basement level is a true unfinished basement level that is 14 ft. tall, and that’s a mechanical wonder down there. It houses four very large boilers and also handles other things on the property.
Creating a waterproof outside to allow Pierce Builders to change the grade and topography was another problem. The team also had to reinforce all the block work done to increase the height of back fill line.
To waterproof, the team used a combination of epoxy injection where the cinder block masonry met with all the spancrete floor lines and also on the same point where the concrete poured walls met the basement level. They used a couple of different brands of waterproof membranes. It was trying to analyze and test people’s products and implement what they felt best in the right location.
“I can tell you that it was an ongoing test and work in progress,” says Pierce “Primarily, I have never been asked to bring grade up a side of a building 7 ft.”
For the roof the architect simply drew rounded shapes. That’s what Pierce was given. He had a picture to go off of from the client with a cedar roof with eyebrow eaves and barrel row gables. They used the lower eave line to create that look, but having no real concept of how to do it, Pierce started making phone calls. In his search he came up with a company and called the owner in London. The owner had developed some thatched roof looking products and sold premade products to get this look. As they were doing historical buildings across England, builders were using his techniques to get this look of thatch without actually having to use thatch.
The team found a couple of little flaws in the system that wouldn’t work for this project, so based on some of the London developers’ concepts, Pierce just started playing around. Using their own millwork shop, Pierce and his team started developing ways to get the roof eaves to look the way they now do. They also worked with a local cedar roofer for his expertise in implementing the roof system.
Pierce was able to figure out a way to do a dropped eave where he had 47 layers of cedar shake coming up, stacking and curving. That’s what creates the lower eave that blends into a cedar shake roof moving on a lateral plane back and forth across the roof. It is also cut sculptured to opposed the lateral line, changing the amount of shingles that can be seen, thus creating a roof that moves. By making the roof thicker and thinner in locations, it changes the visual effect on the eye and doesn’t keep the roof on a flat plane like today’s traditional buildings.
“We had to get a little creative as to how we were going to meet current codes and make something in an old nature with a true authentic look,” says Pierce. “It took a lot of experimenting along the way. I like being told that it can’t be done. It pushes my buttons. We like the projects that can’t be done.”
Pierce led the cottage theme to keep the project as accurate as possible and on budget. Part of that meant making The Hollow look worn out when they were complete. They faux finished all of it so it had the bumps, bruises and look of being lived in.
The primary objective inside the structure was to create a warm place that could be utilized by guests for entertaining purposes. The local zoning regulations do not allow a guest home, so the team had to carefully watch that there were no closets, no bedrooms or overnight stay capacity. Also because of local zoning regulations, the homeowners cannot cook there but can service or serve food. The biggest direction the homeowner gave the team was a specific look of a narrow old European galley kitchen to balance the usefulness of the space.
Early on in the planning the homeowners were very involved. This is a very important piece to the estate, and Pierce Builders was developing and working on the manor home at the same time. They were very hands-on at the initial planning and developing of the architectural drawings.
“As far as the on-site arrangements, I believe this is the fifth or sixth project I’ve done for them,” explains Pierce. “They had quite a bit of trust in us and I believe we delivered rather well in this case.”
The homeowners felt that this project turned out extremely well. They have written a bunch of testimonials for Pierce Builders and even went out to Las Vegas to be with Pierce Builders as they accepted their Master Design Award for this detached structure.
“I think we have a special bond because of the work we have done for them,” says Pierce.