As the Pacific Northwest, New York's Catskills, and California's desserts continue to deliver eyecatching hospitality projects and residential cabins of the likes we daydream about constantly here at Field Mag, the Midwest has quietly been building. Once home to Eero Saarinen, Minoru Yamasaki, Florence Knoll, and Ray & Charles Eames, among others, the birthplace of mid-century modern design is again producing noteworthy projects—and we're paying attention.
Located in northern Wisconsin Nordlys is one unique new rental cabin project rooted in thoughtful architecture with a decidedly global perspective. Taking simultaneous cues from the owner's Scandinavian roots and the rolling Wisconin landscape, the getaway features two unique architect-designed cabins set among 140 acres of countryside. More and more, we see prefab cabins billed as nature escapes, which makes Nordlys' custom cabins exciting design experiments.
While only recently opened, Nordlys has been in the works for some time. In the late 1980s, owners Bruce McPheeter and his wife purchased a small cabin on Wisconsin's Wood Lake. They spent the next 35 years visiting the property with family, deepening their relationship with the land and the local community. Upon retirement, the couple, along with their son Jeff, felt called to share the area with travelers. For two years the McPheeters searched for a property near their family cabin before finding the tract where Nordlys now sits, a picturesque landscape in the rural village of Frederic.
The property's first completed structure, the MetalLark Tower, looks like an glass treehouse. Working with Minneapolis-based architect David Wagner of SALA Architects, the family "wanted to bring that PNW feel to Wisconsin," and took inspiration, in part, from Seattle-based studio (and Field Mag fave) Olson Kundig.
MetalLark Tower displays a clear nod to the Seattle-based firm, with its steel, glass, and wooden materiality on full display in 800 square feet—though Wagner made sure to adapt the structure to Wisconsin's demanding elements. "It was an incredibly complicated build", says Jeff. "The steel in our climate is hard to manage compared to the more temperate Pacific Northwest."
Though needless to say, the efforts paid off.
The interior is light and fresh, aided by floor-to-ceiling glass on all levels. The open-floor living area and kitchen, located on the top level, gives guests a bird's eye view of the property, while the downstairs features a bedroom, bath, and access to a viewing deck—all with even more views. Radiant floor heating and a gas fireplace on each floor keep things warm, while shade from neighboring trees and wide roof overhangs provide relief in hotter months.
Cabin 2, or the "Long House" (not pictured), is just down the road from MetalLark Tower, on the hilly banks of the 2,000-foot-long pond that Jeff calls the centerpeice of the property. The two-bedroom, two-bath house is gently tucked into the topography. It's also wheelchair accessible, inspired by a family member's battle with pancreatic cancer that at times left them immobile and yearning for a countryside escape.
"We wanted the two places to have a similar aesthetic and look like they came from the same parts bin," Jeff says, "but be different enough that people would want to come back and stay at the other cabin."
As of now, the MetalLark Cabin is booked through 2022, and the Long House will open early next year. You can reserve a stay through the Nordlys website starting at $295/night.
When asked what's next for Nordlys, Jeff says that there are plans to build more cabins. "We think we can build about four and keep to our design goals," he says. "And we'd love to do that, but we're going to take a little pause and get the operations sorted out before we do."
Until then, we'll be here, curious as ever.