Ferrous House / Johnsen Schmaling Architects


Architect: Johnsen Schmaling Architects
Location: Spring Prairie, Wisconsin,
Project team: Brian Johnsen, AIA; Sebastian Schmaling, AIA; Nick Woods
Area: 125.4 sqm
Project year: 2008
Photography: Doug Edmunds

ferroushouse_14 ferroushouse_12 ferroushouse_07 ferroushouse_04

The Ferrous House sits in a row of unexceptional 1970′s ranches, part of a narrow subdivision hugging the edge of a wooded nature preserve west of Milwaukee. An existing dwelling that had fallen into serious disrepair was entirely gutted and stripped of its roof, but the limited construction budget required the reuse of the existing foundation, main perimeter walls, and plumbing cores.

site plan
site plan

The main level of the house, a simple rectangular volume with 1,380 sf of living space, is wrapped on three sides with a suspended curtain of weathering steel panels, their warm color of ferrous corrosion echoing the hues of the derelict farm equipment left behind on the area’s abandoned pastures. The steel wrapper protects the inside of the house from the scrutiny of suspicious neighbors and the elements; in the back, it extends beyond the building’s perimeter, where it shelters the sides of a linear south-facing patio.

exploted axo
exploted axo

Linear storage boxes, containing built-in closet systems and living room cabinetry, penetrate the steel curtain and cantilever over the edge of the building, adding desperately needed square footage without altering the original footprint of the house.

In a carefully choreographed entry sequence, wide exterior stairs run along the front of the house and lead into a glazed foyer, an extension of the main circulation core that transforms into a small observatory above the roof. The slightly tilted roof plane is supported by a filigree of exposed metal and wood trusses, adding height to the living spaces and allowing northern light to wash the inside of the house through a translucent, Nanogel-filled glass band. At night, the window band radiates its warm light into the distance, subtly evoking the iconic clerestory glow of the dairy barns that once dotted the region.


The Ferrous House offers a resource-conscious solution to the challenges of an aging, and often ill-conceived, suburban housing stock. In contrast to a radical tabula rasa approach, the project demonstrates how the bones of an obsolete building can be utilized and transformed into the framework for a contemporary dwelling.

Products in this project

Bathroom Equipment: Kohler

  • Bathroom plumbing fittings by Kohler
  • Bathroom plumbing fixtures by Kohler

Construction materials, Semi-finished materials: Owens Corning, Georgia-Pacific, Caesarstone

  • Insulation by Owens Corning
  • Sheathing by Georgia-Pacific
  • Countertops by Caesarstone

Facades: CorTen Steel

  • Exterior siding by CorTen Steel

Floor: Armstrong

  • Flooring by Armstrong

Joinery: Eagle, Clopay, Nanawall, Haefele

  • Windows by Eagle
  • Garage doors by Clopay
  • Patio doors by Nanawall
  • Hardware by Haefele

Kitchen Equipment: Kraftmaid, Dacor, Bosch, Kohler, Sub Zero

  • Kitchen cabinets by Kraftmaid
  • Range by Dacor
  • Dishwasher by Bosch
  • Oven by Dacor
  • Kitchen plumbing fittings by Kohler
  • Refrigerator by Sub Zero
  • Kitchen plumbing fixtures by Kohler

Lighting, Heating, Home/building automation: Lennox

  • Fireplace by Lennox

Roof: Rheinzink

  • Roofing by Rheinzink

Walls: Benjamin Moore

  • Paints/stains by Benjamin Moore
Cite: "Ferrous House / Johnsen Schmaling Architects" 13 Aug 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 17 Sep 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=31710>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    gorgeous small home with nice surroundings. The amount of natural light that the open plan and large windows allows for is great.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Absolutely beautiful – but with all that glass I imagine that it would be rather chilly in the winter. I hope that wood (propane?) stove really kicks out the heat!

  3. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    lots of nice things here, but the roof seems WAY over-structured– could have spanned the opposite direction

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      I don’t know if all of those trusses are necessary, but if you look at the photos and the model, it’s clear that the shorter distance is being spanned.

  4. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Great colour scheme, white + rich timber. I like how you solved fire place, visible from everywhere and the way it overhangs over floor give contemporary touch. The patio nicely connects interior with landscape, which is fantastic. Simple, but neat. Thanks for sharing, Lumiges

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    A wonderful location, but poorly constructed project, partially due to awkward detailing, material selection and budget.

    There are just too many different timber finishes making the house appear confusing and cheap.

    It’s a shame as it could have been nice.

  6. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    This house I recall seeing when it won a small house award from the AIA.

    There is a lot to be said for this project, especially with regard to siting and the overall palette of materials. Also, I appreciate that the architects have taken the time to document their project well and have it professionally photographed.

    One reply pointed out the visible structural system, and I too find that bothersome. That visual clutter takes something away from the force of the space.

    Projects with this kind of ambition deserve advanced lighting systems. It is a hard to believe that creative people cannot come up with anything better than ceiling cans and run-of-the-mill solutions. This isn’t a budget issue either. I always think of what Schindler could do with a lightbulb and a bit of corrugated plastic. Surely efficient and great looking lighting isn’t out of reach for a project of this calibre.

    Terry Glenn Phipps

  7. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    One of the few contemporary houses I’ve seen with an entry sequence. Congrats for that alone.

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