Mr. Peterson’s Lovely Cottage

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

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At age 90 Frank Lloyd Wright may have met his match in audacity in young Seth Peterson, 23, around 1958. Peterson had long admired Wright’s work when he set his sights on a cottage designed by the master of organic architecture for land he purchased overlooking Mirror Lake in south central Wisconsin. Wright was not seeking new commissions, and he turned down the eager young man. But Peterson was resourceful and sent Wright a $1000 retainer which the architect spent, obligating him to design a home for Peterson and his intended bride.

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Seth Peterson, photo courtesy of the Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy

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Construction had begun when Peterson, despondent over the end of his relationship with his fiancé and real and perceived problems with finishing the house committed suicide at age 24. Another owner finished the project, although not entirely to Wright’s specifications. The cottage fell into disrepair and deteriorated significantly after the State of Wisconsin purchased it in 1966 to be part of the new Mirror Lake State Park and boarded it up, having no immediate use for it. A heroic rehabilitation was undertaken by the Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy which was formed in 1989. John Eifler was the architect for the work, in concert with many volunteer workers (the story of the rehabilitation of the cottage is on the Conservancy’s website:  Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy )

When the cottage was opened up for overnight rentals it was the only such Wright site in America.

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The term cottage is certainly relative. While Wright’s summer “cottage” for Fred B. Jones on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin is 6500 sq. ft. with its gatehouse, the Seth Peterson Cottage is just 880 sq. ft. and was intended as a year-round residence.  The panoramic vista into the woods is visible on two or three sides from the living room, dining room and tiny kitchen or workspace, depending where one is sitting or standing. The surrounding trees have matured significantly since Peterson first conceived of a cottage overlooking the lake so it is difficult to see the much of the lake from the house (Department of Natural Resources policies govern the site so trees cannot be cut down).

The word “photography” means “writing with light.” The photos below not only show the inside of the cottage, but also how nature “writes with light” at this lovely wooded site.

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Morning light projected onto the masonry in the bedroom: Seth Peterson Cottage 056.jpg

The windows in the corners, including the clerestory windows, are mitered:

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Seth Peterson Cottage 064.jpgWindows: Wright’s Prairie-style homes are known for his leaded glass designs, his Usonian homes are known for the unique pattern he designed for the clerestory windows of each house. Part of the pattern for the Cottage clerestory windows is evocative of the surrounding trees:

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Seth Peterson Cottage 082.jpgSeth Peterson Cottage 073.jpgThe public and private (one bedroom) space wrap in a “U’ around the hearth. The bedroom can be screened off from the living room by means of a closet door which can fold out into a double-width door in the hallway between the bedroom and living room.

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The bird feeder, which echoes the pattern of the clerestory windows, is popular with raccoons in the evening:

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The requisite selfie!

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Visit the Conservancy’s website for more information about the Cottage and to make reservations to stay there. But, be forewarned, it is often booked more than a year in advance.

Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy

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3 thoughts on “Mr. Peterson’s Lovely Cottage

  1. Mark

    thank-you for bringing this beautiful place to my eyes

    Judith Schulz

    ________________________________

    • John Eifler and countless volunteers deserve credit for saving the cottage. Visit their website if you have not already had a chance to do so, Judith. Others reading this may be interested to know that Judith’s family includes the contractor for Wright’s Hardy House in Racine and a carpenter who helped build Wright’s SC Johnson Research Tower. An interview with the latter is in my book about the tower. I didn’t know in time to include the family in the Hardy House book.

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