Vacationing in Lakefront Luxury

Those from Chicago and Milwaukee wanting to absorb a bit of the opulence of Lake Geneva, Wis., flock to this long-standing retreat from the big cities, a city now famous for its lavish mansions and abundant nightlife. And while lake property anywhere in the area is a hot commodity, nowhere is it more sought after than on Lake Geneva itself.

The South Shore Club is a 41-acre development of 40 vacation home sites with a clubhouse and marina set on the shores of this epicenter of recreation. How this amount of land became available on such a prime spot, and how its use was maximized by this development, is a tale as interesting as the homes being built on it. Northwestern Military and Naval Academy was the initial occupant of this land that includes 1,000 feet of shoreline. Peak use of the academy was from 1900 to 1949. The current activities that will take place on the site, however, are more recreational than militaristic.

The Design House, one of the first houses completed in the South Shore Club, epitomizes the leisurely lifestyle the development strives to embrace. Because the homes are intended for vacation use, an informal French Country style was chosen for all the homes by being built on the property by Orren Pickell Designers and Builders based in Lincolnshire, Ill., which developed and designed the South Shore Club.

“French Country can come in a wide variety of forms and shapes, so it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly the style is,” says John Anstadt, AIA and managing principal, Orren Pickell Designers and Builders. “The one thing about French Country is that it’s generally informal and there isn’t a lot of symmetry. There are a lot of elements going on of a freestyle nature.”

The elements for this style were handpicked during a trip to France, where Pickell designers studied the architecture and details of French homes, Anstadt explains. “Most of the houses you see in Europe have been around for 300 years and are well maintained. That is the look we were going for; a well-maintained house that looks like it has been there for 300 years.”

One of these features is the sagging roofs and peaks of European cottages, which were incorporated into the Design House. “But it’s obviously not sagging in the new home,” Anstadt says. “We built up areas so it looked that way. But the look that (makes it seem like) it has been there for so long that it is settling and sloped in areas is the feeling we were trying to get.”

Helping to create that feeling is the use of real shutters complete with working hinges. Another old world architectural characteristic echoed in the Design Home is the use of local materials, such as flagstone from each home’s own backyard. Likewise, local stone and hewn timbers are incorporated into the Design Home. The timbers are fire cut, a detail used in old European homes to hold up stone walls in case of fire so walls would not crash down under the weight of a falling roof.

In addition to gable timber detailing, leaded glass windows, stucco and rubble-tumble stone exterior, is a detail on the roof called graduated slate, where pieces of slate grow larger and reveal more as they get farther away to add dimension and warmth to the home’s exterior. Bead board and copper ceilings, a claw-footed bathtub, handmade glass tiles, liberal use of wrought iron and arches on the interior draw the old world local artisan feeling to the inside of the home.

Because homes at the South Shore Club are being used as vacation homes, and friends’ families may be staying there even when homeowners aren’t, dormitories with room for several beds are being incorporated into many of the vacation homes. Additionally, Anstadt has found that formal dining rooms and separate living and family rooms are being avoided by the homeowners to encourage casual living.

“People aren’t doing a lot of black tie entertaining anymore. Casual living, for us in architecture, is a trend that has been developing for six or seven years where people are leaning more toward it. Instead of a formal dining room, they want a terrace right outside the family room or a screen porch to sit and relax in, with one big family room where two or three families can gather.”

Despite the lack of guidelines for creating the casual French country style that accommodates this casual lifestyle, there is a challenge in trying to stick to the style.

“We’re really trying to incorporate these details without going overboard on cost,” Anstadt explains. “You can do any style without a budget, but every house has a budget. We’ve used hand-hewn timber where you will notice and appreciate it — in the screen porch because it’s an outdoor space and not a big room, so when you’re in it you’ll really experience it. In vacation living you tend to spend more time in living areas and less time in sleeping areas, so we didn’t do things like that in secondary bedrooms. We’ve spent the money where it will be appreciated.”

Subsequently, in the most-used living areas like the family room, vaulted ceilings and hand-hewn, random-sized oak floor planks were used to create the feel that the floor has been walked on every day for the past 200 years.

Through careful planning and use of the same landscape architect for every home on the Lake Shore Club’s property, Pickell ensured that each home has a view of the lake. Instead of a handful of homes being directly on the lake with many more a stone’s throw away but without lake access, the development provides many more homeowners with a view and access to the lake.

Accordingly, the clubhouse has been built underground, with its roof flush to the ground so as not to block homeowners’ views. The venting for the clubhouse is camouflaged with a fire pit and sitting areas, and pump houses on the property have been kept minimal and architecturally consistent with the rest of the buildings on the site. A concierge service will be available to homeowners as there is not enough room in the marina for all the homeowners’ boats. Owners can call the concierge on the way to Lake Geneva and ask that their boat be brought out of dry dock and be gassed and ready upon their arrival.

Details like this throughout the site are the result of the collaboration that occurs on a design/build team, Anstadt says. “In a design/build situation, you need to be a team and there is a lot of rapport you need to have. But the homes are built more in line with the intent that they are supposed to be built, and it gives the client, the end user, a better product,” he concludes. And in the case of the South Shore Club, the end product is a better lifestyle.