Balanced on the edge of a wooded bluff overlooking picturesque
Mirror Lake, the 1958-designed Seth Peterson Cottage was one of Wright’s last commissions.
Get cozy at the Seth Peterson Cottage at Mirror Lake State Park.
Story and photos by Paul A. Biedrzycki
A brief 2–day retreat for my wife Mindy and me at the Seth Peterson Cottage at scenic Mirror Lake State Park last January was blissful. The solitude and rich reflection provided the necessary respite we both craved after a hectic holiday season with family, friends and coworkers, replete with parties and the usual overabundance of gifts, food and, of course, requisite good cheer.
The Seth Peterson Cottage, perched high on a wooded bluff overlooking an arm of Mirror Lake, represents one of the last commissioned designs of world–renowned architect and Wisconsin native son Frank Lloyd Wright. Although he died before its construction was completed, the cottage is considered a prime example of Usonian design — Wright’s vision of affordable and functional housing for the post–Depression middle class. As such, it exudes a simplicity and beauty evident in its clean construction lines, strategic window placement, attention to natural lighting and use of locally available building materials such as sandstone.
The cottage was originally commissioned by Seth Peterson, a young, aspiring architect enamored with Wright who vigorously pursued an apprenticeship at Wright’s studio–school at Taliesin.
Tragically, Peterson died prior to seeing completion of the cottage and it was sold after his death. The state acquired the property in the mid–1960s after it sat neglected for almost two decades, and it is currently managed by the nonprofit Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy. While it has undergone major repairs, it retains the original architectural vision, both interior and exterior, in virtually every respect.
At a little less than 900 square feet, its efficient use of space across entryway, kitchen, dining area and living room, along with an impressive two–story ceiling and vaulted overhang, enhance the cottage’s feeling of spaciousness. A large, centrally–located fireplace serves as centerpiece to the floor plan and was heartily engaged during both our evening stays. The bedroom, (albeit small by today’s standards) was quite adequate, as was the small utilitarian bathroom directly adjoining, complete with a well–functioning shower stall.
The experience of staying in this historic residence was both humbling and awe–inspiring. It represented the antithesis of modern living in typical urban and suburban settings today where family rooms approach the size of small gymnasiums and 70–inch LED flat–screen televisions and synthetic trim dominate the interior landscape and décor.
In contrast, the compact design of the cottage along with generous use of natural wood and stone, while not luxurious, was aesthetically pleasing and generated a feeling of warmth and comfort that authentically spoke of home. In many ways, our exposure to the cottage redefined our thinking of contemporary residential housing necessity and quality of life.
We could see the surrounding winter landscape unobstructed from several vantage points throughout the cottage during daylight and nighttime hours. The scene was equally relaxing, inviting reverie under varying lighting scenarios.
Of particular entertainment was the variety of native birds that endlessly visited a feeder located a few yards from the front of the cottage, along with a scavenging black squirrel that stood in stark contrast to the white blanket of snow cover.
The Seth Peterson Cottage is conveniently located in close proximity to cross–country skiing and hiking trails that my wife and I availed ourselves of on both days, given optimal snow and weather conditions during our visit.
Rental canoes and kayaks are available through Mirror Lake Rentals at the Mirror Lake State Park boat launch.
The availability of these types of outdoor recreational activities, along with a truly transformational stay at this landmark, cemented our conviction to plan another visit in the near future. It also fundamentally underscored, as well as validated, once again for us the sheer beauty that is Wisconsin’s natural resources regardless of the season.
Paul A. Biedrzycki writes from Milwaukee, Wis.