A Modern Oasis on Lake Monona
A family creates a lakefront retreat from a midcentury home
Matt Kutz and Rachelle Miller put a lot of work into renovating the house to give it a clean, modern look. See more photos of the home in the slideshow below.
PHOTO BY BETH SKOGEN
If you came across the Matt Kutz and Rachelle Miller's home on the online real estate listings a few years back, you might’ve passed it right by.
The midcentury house on Winnequah, abutting Lake Monona, needed work. A lot of work. It was still owned by its first resident, and not much had changed since the original build in the early ’60s. The basement bore cinder block walls with a Cold War feel. There was an indoor charcoal grill and a teal cast iron tub on the main floor. Even an old candy apple red Cadillac was parked in the drive.
But the couple—Matt, a Monona dentist, and Rachelle, a clay artist—saw potential. They liked the bones of the place and eventually fell in love with the location. (They even scored the Caddy by writing it into their offer.) With the help of friend and architect Matt Tills, the couple got to work on the renovation updating the old house to a bright, clean-lined modern home with more space for sons Owen, eight, and Eliott, four.
One of the initial problems was the basement, which was dark due to a boxy, cantilevered design on the upper floor hanging over the lower. To fix it, they pushed back the lower-level wall flush with the cantilever, allowing for an even spill of light through the windows and additional square footage.
“This is a huge space for us with the kids. We live down here,” says Matt as both boys cuddle into the wrap-around sectional couch facing the fireplace.
The bigger space also afforded Rachelle an at-home studio to work on her art. Her pieces can be seen throughout the home, displayed on living room walls and even serving as cups for sipping tea upstairs in the kitchen.
The original home was roughly 2,100 square feet, with three bedrooms on the main floor. The couple changed the floor plan to partially convert one bedroom into a walk-in pantry. The other half of the bedroom became stairs to a new upper level.
On the upper, they built the master bedroom and bath, complete with a luxury shower, two bedrooms for the boys and a shared bath between. The cabinets for the boys’ side-by-side sinks were handcrafted and then painted by Rachelle, matching the color scheme for the rest of the home—midcentury shades of green, blue and orange—especially evident in Owen’s sun-bright bedroom. Like Mom and Dad’s, Owen’s space overlooks the lake.
The lake, of course, is a selling feature of the home. “It’s part of the charm of Monona, living by the water,” Matt says. “At the time they built this community in the 1960s, a lot of the UW architecture staff came over here.”
The result was high design on lakefront property. Still, Kutz and Miller thought twice about purchasing the home, which looks out on a slender finger of land known as Frost Island. They worried the island’s foliage would obstruct their view.
After thinning out some tree cover, they couldn’t be happier. In the winter, the barren trees provide a clear view of the lake. In the summer months, there’s isolated swimming in the channel as eagles, cranes and egrets nest nearby. It’s an oasis not far from metropolitan downtown. Matt’s even talked about building a dock and kayaking to his office, also located on the lake about a mile away.
Rachelle’s sensibility informs the décor. “I’ve always liked really clean lines,” she says. “I don’t have a lot of stuff. I like to have some nice, concise pieces and then some places of rest in between.”
The couple went antiquing for most of their furniture—sideboards, dressers, dining room table, all midcentury—and points out Rachelle’s grandfather’s chair, an heirloom piece they inherited, that reupholstered fits perfectly into the space.
“The focus is always on living first,” Matt says. “I hate to use dentistry as an example but it’s the same thing. Your tooth has got to work first. It has to function. Then we can worry about aesthetics. I want to be able to live in my home.”
And live well, the family does.
Laura Jones is a Madison-based writer.