By Shayna Mace | Photography by Shanna Wolf
Most homeowners design a new home by taking bits of inspiration from places they’ve visited and homes they’ve loved. Barbara and Robert Lehmann designed a home to reflect two of their favorite places—a lodge in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and Door County’s beautiful cottages. But they took it one step further: Barbara also wanted to imagine a home that could house their favorite artists’ paintings, and factor that into the design.
“We frequently visit Door County and love the area,” explains Barbara. “Over the years we’ve discovered some amazing art galleries and made some [great] friends. Shari Gransee, owner of Fine Line Designs Gallery in Sister Bay, is where we saw Pamela Murphy’s oil and encaustics and Stephanie Evans’ ceramics work. I quickly became a collector of both artists, and have gotten to meet and know them. I find their work complements one another and gives our house a very tranquil feeling.”
The Lehmann’s home indeed is a very special place. A winding road dotted with trees, a pavilion and small bridge that greets visitors driving down their driveway is the first sign that it’s a little bit of an escape—right in Middleton on Lake Mendota. The now-idyllic setting certainly wasn’t how the property looked when the couple first visited it in 2016.
“There was a tiny dirt road coming into the property. It was overgrown—you couldn’t even walk on the property,” says Barbara. “But we looked at each other and went, ‘Don’t you feel like we’re hiking in Door County?’ So, we bought it.”
The land had an old shack on it that the couple had to tear down—along with clearing out the land and dead trees to make way for new landscaping and a new home.
“Kittleson Landscaping had their hands full as the land had not been tended to for many years … we consulted with several arborists to help us develop a plan and worked with Wayne Wyser from Wyser Engineering. We planted 78-plus trees and hundreds of plants. Kirk Zimple from Kittleson far exceeded our expectations and did an exceptional job,” says Barbara.
The Lehmanns met with Jeff Grundahl and Joel Geissbuhler of Brio Design Homes to concept their home. Barbara says the couple’s priorities were “one hundred percent usable space. I didn’t want extra rooms—I wanted something that’s usable for our family—what our needs and lifestyle is.” The couple’s three grown children frequently come to visit (and daughter Chelsea and her husband even live across the lake!) so having space for everyone inside and out was a high priority.
“We’re the place to be. Not only do we have parties here, our children have parties here!” says Barbara.
That’s why the first floor is for the most part is wide open with soaring 20-foot ceilings, a spacious living room, dining area and kitchen. Functional touches like a pantry tucked in the kitchen, a custom-built entryway closet, two entrances to the garage to eliminate trudging through living areas and a smartly-designed powder room make entertaining easy.
Exposed pine beams (a touch cribbed from the Steamboat Springs lodge) with a pickled whitewash add warmth to the peacefully neutral interior and are a design focal point.
Built-in bookshelves flank the stone fireplace and inviting and comfortable furnishings ordered through Jodi Jacobs at Nathan Nichols & Company (out of Baileys Harbor) fill out the polished living room nicely. Barbara thought having a large flat-screen TV would interrupt the serenity of the room, so she artfully hid it instead. That black-and-white statement art piece above the fireplace? It rolls up in seconds to reveal a TV hidden behind it.
Another stunning feature of the home that’s perfect for parties is the screened-in porch that runs the entire length of the house. The couple can enjoy sunrises and sunsets from the kitchen, living room and their bedroom simply by stepping outside. Outside the master bedroom is a comfortable sitting area with plenty of places to lounge, and on the other end of the porch is an outdoor dining table that the couple uses almost every night in the summer. Accordion-like doors open up the living room to expand the size of the room instantly and welcome in the outdoors. The best part is that thick, clear weatherproof plastic covers shield the screens during the cooler months so amazingly, the couple can even use the area during more temperate cold days.
“Last year at Christmas we had the doors open! It can get chilly, but it can also get very warm back [on the screened porch] and you can actually go out there and enjoy it,” says Barbara.
Another area Barbara loves is the kitchen because the family spends a lot of time here, and she had a strong hand in the overall design. Working with Dan Luck and Abbey Weiss of Bella Domicile, the company installed all of the custom kitchen cabinetry (as well as the bathroom and laundry cabinets throughout the home).
“The details in each area that Barbara and Robert specified brought the design to life,” says Bella Domicile’s Weiss. “It was a joy to collaborate with the Lehmanns and Brio Design Homes on this stunning new home.”
Wonderful design details pull together the kitchen beautifully, like the glossy Dekton countertops (a new option on the market, made of quartz), herringbone backsplash, vintage-look Kohler pull-down faucet, apron sink, half-moon cabinet pulls and nautical-inspired pendant lamps by Visual Comfort & Co. An industrial-look dining room chandelier blends seamlessly with the kitchen’s modern simplicity and beauty. Functionality also reigns supreme here with a double-wide Sub-Zero fridge, Viking stove and pasta filler that help make meal prep easier.
Also on the main level is Barb’s lofted office space that overlooks the living room. It’s filled with furnishings passed down from family, including a wood table made by her great- grandfather and great-uncle (refinished by a local tradesman) and her father’s desk. Barbara also has favorite art pieces scattered up here as well, “because we wanted this house to be about family—and Door County,” she smiles.
Adjacent to the living room is the couple’s luxurious master suite, with a spacious bedroom, gas fireplace, walk-in closet and high-end master bathroom. The gorgeously graphic black and white custom tile (handpicked by Barbara at Ann Sacks in Kohler), large walk-in shower, vintage-look soaking tub and his- and-hers vanities mean the couple each has their own space.
Downstairs the couple’s family and visitors have no lack of space with another living room, three bedrooms, workout room, laundry room, two full bathrooms and even a bar area. Each bedroom is outfitted with lovely art pieces by Pamela Murphy—each of which was chosen by Barbara for a specific reason. For example, Murphy’s painting of a young boy with a black bird hangs above a desk that was in her father’s childhood home. The young boy reminds her of her father’s generation and the time period he grew up in.
If the downstairs entertaining area isn’t wow-worthy enough, the couple’s outdoor patio overlooking the lake is even more jaw-dropping. Featuring a large infinity-edge pool (that overlooks the lake) the Lehmanns can actually sit in the pool on stools (like at a resort) or lounge outside the pool with bar-edge seating and high-top chairs. The area also has a pergola with grill and eating area, hot tub, shed with storage and plenty of room for laying out, so guests probably feel like they’re at a high- end resort—right in Madison. The couple worked with Mark Brzezinski of Neuman Pools (based in Beaver Dam) along with Kittleson Landscaping to achieve their one-of-a-kind patio area. And the couple didn’t forget the art outside—a metal whale tail sculpture by Carl Vanderheyden from Edgewood Orchard Galleries in Door County gives a friendly wave to guests and boaters.
The couple love all of their entertaining space and are thrilled when family and friends come over. But really, it all goes back to the art for Barbara.
“The more artists I could get from our collections into the house to really make it feel like a home for family and friends—that was our goal,” reflects Barbara. “It’s just been an amazing journey getting to know these women and the people up in Door County, and it makes having this [art] so close to us [more meaningful], and it’s been great.”
The Lehmanns count Door County-based artists Pamela Murphy and Stephanie Evans as friends. The couple have gotten to know them over the years and frequently visit Door County because of their love of the area—and its galleries.
“Pamela Murphy is an amazing person—she’s 90 percent sustainable and lives in Door County on her own farmette. In addition to creating beautiful works of art, she builds her own frames to complement her paintings.”
Another Door County artist Barbara is very fond of is Stephanie Evans, who creates gorgeous ceramic dresses. Barbara was also introduced to Evans at Fine Line Designs Gallery. Every day I say to Robert, ‘We’re so blessed to have our friends be a part of this house [like] Stephanie and Pam and all of the women that are up there [in Door County].’ Shari Gransee of Fine Line Designs Gallery in Sister Bay supports all artists in Door County, and that’s really what this is about.”
This home was featured in the Madison: Spring 2019 issue. For more photos of featured Madison homes, visit the Madison Gallery.
The Lakeshore Living publications are published by Nei-Turner Media Group, a full-service agency located in Lake Geneva, WI. Our four publications cover the picturesque lake communities of Lake Geneva, Madison, Lake Country and Northwoods.
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