An Eco Home in the Arboretum

An environmentally friendly house makes one young family feel right at home in Madison

The Tilles' house is sunny and welcoming. FIND MORE PHOTOS OF THE HOME IN THE SLIDESHOW BELOW.

The Tilles' house is sunny and welcoming. FIND MORE PHOTOS OF THE HOME IN THE SLIDESHOW BELOW.

For Matt and Laura Tills and their sons Sam and Gus, the UW Arboretum isn’t just a natural retreat in the middle of the city, a place to connect with nature through 1,260 acres of forests, prairies and wetlands.

It’s also their home.

When the family moved to Madison in 2004, Matt and Laura looked at an Arboretum lot, which at the time was an old tennis court on a strangely shaped piece of property. But where developers saw hassles, Matt, an architect with his own firm, Tills Architecture, saw he chance to design a home that would meld with its environment.

“It did require a fair amount of extra homework,” he says. “But it was such a unique opportunity.”

They purchased the lot and spent a year working on the design for their new home.

“We wanted an energy-efficient home with warm materials,” Matt says. “Aesthetically, I like the juxtaposition between the rawness of concrete and
finely detailed elements.”

“And we wanted it to be highly functional,” adds Laura, a dentist and part-owner of Riverplace Dental.

The couple turned to Wood Construction of Wisconsin in Oregon because the company had experience in working with structural insulated panels, or SIPs. Made up of foam core edged by two layers of structural board, SIPs create an airtight envelope of a building and allowed the Tillses’ house to go up quickly on-site.

While difficult soil and a high water level prevented the Tillses from building a basement, their 2,600-square-foot open-concept home provides both ample storage and a sense of airiness. Small changes in elevation or ceiling height, rather than walls and doors, help designate different spaces.

Walk in the front door and the kitchen and dining room open up on the left and the high-ceilinged living room and cozy television room beckon to the right, with a long wood bench made from reclaimed wood running in between. Cats Olive and Artichoke are equally as welcoming.

Warm woods—Douglas fir is one of Matt’s preferred materials—continue in the trim, doors and exposed beams in the family room. Another hallmark of the home is natural light, such as in the family room, where soaring south-facing windows offer a lookout to the yard and trees. “With a view like this, we really appreciate each season,” Laura says.

And the Tillses also take pride in realizing their goals of building a home that’s efficient, responsible and truly their own.

“I feel like we really use all of it, which is fulfilling,” Laura says.

“It’s designing for the way you live,” Matt adds. “It’s liberating not to build for resale.”

Katie Vaughn is managing editor of Madison Magazine.

Find more House of the Month features here.

 

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