The Wright Fit
A Shorewood Hills couple finds serenity in a lakeside Frank Lloyd Wright home
Eliot and Sara Butler feel at home in Frank Lloyd Wright's Pew House. See more photos of the home in the slideshow below.
Photo by Beth Skogen
Many study Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, but few know what it’s like to actually reside within one of his designs. Eliot and Sara Butler are in that minority—they live in Wright’s John Clarence Pew House.
“I didn’t think I could have a relationship with a house like I have with this, and just appreciate and enjoy it as much as I do,” says Eliot, who operates Great Dane Pub and Brewery restaurants and bought the home in 2008. “I was a little surprised how emotional I got about the house.”
Built in 1940, the Pew House rests on Lake Mendota in the Shorewood Hills neighborhood and is often compared to Wright’s more famous Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. The home was important to Wright because of its location—growing up in the area, he had a special affinity for the lakes.
Wright’s distinctive thumbprint is all over the house, from a playful use of boundaries to a set of table and chairs designed by the architect himself. Each area in the home, such as the windowless galley-style kitchen, was created with consciousness.
“When you’re doing a task, you’re doing that task. You’re not focused on something else,” says Sara, who does Thai bodywork and designs websites. “[Wright] sets up areas that are really built for the task at hand.”
A heavy emphasis on natural building materials, including native limestone and tidewater cypress, which has aged beautifully and still emits woody scent, adds warmth to the space and ties nicely with the pristine lake views.
Because of Wright’s numerous and visually interesting built-ins, decorative additions to the home can pose a challenge. Since becoming the property’s third set of owners six years ago, the Butlers have made only minimal aesthetic renovations, preferring to preserve as much of the original design as possible to both maintain history and ensure simplicity.
“It’s really like living inside a piece of art,” says Sara.
“There’s something a little bit surreal—Alice in Wonderland—proportionately,” adds Eliot.
Their few updates complement the home’s established ambiance and use of outdoor space. A variety of wooded entertainment options, such as the lakeside fire pit and a private landing leading to the water, encourage relaxation and wildlife viewing, while nearby neighborhood trails and a golf course make for easy access to recreational space.
Eliot and Sara stress that they are lucky to live in a community with such great resources and friendly neighbors.
“The fact that it’s its own village is neat,” Sara says about Shorewood Hills.
Of course, the Butlers aren’t the only ones who recognize the uniqueness of their living situation, a fact they are regularly reminded of by guests—both invited and not. Since the home has historical significance, they receive visitors each year, some of whom drop by unannounced for an impromptu tour.
“We can have guests from any part of the world,” says Sara.
Still, the Butlers are the only ones who get to call it home.
Hannah Kiddoo is a Madison-based freelance writer. She blogs about interior design and house trends in HomeGirl.