Road Trip: Seth Peterson Cottage

Seth Peterson Cottage, western facade • Reedsburg, Wisc. • Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright, 1958 • ©Brian R. Hannan
Southern facade • ©Brian R. Hannan

When an opening at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Seth Peterson Cottage unexpectedly became available this week, I had only one thought: Road trip!

I recruited my friend Joe, and we made plans to leave the next morning for a brief, overnight visit. I’d been wanting to stay at the cottage since I learned of it last fall while preparing for our outing to Talliesin, Wright’s home and studio in Spring Green, Wisc. The cottage, however, was booked solid for all of 2017 and, for that matter, much of 2018.

Still, I made a daily habit of checking the reservation website, hoping for a cancelation. I was soon rewarded.

The living area. The banquette seating by the terrace window features a pull-out, full-size bed. ©Brian R. Hannan

The Usonian-influenced Seth Peterson Cottage sits on a wooded promontory in what today is Mirror Lake State Park, in Reedsburg, Wisc. The one-bedroom, one-bath home features an open floor plan with flagstone floors, limestone and plywood walls and a large fireplace as a focal point in the living area. The furniture is based on the final construction drawings Wright delivered shortly before his death in April 1959.

Looking west • ©Brian R. Hannan

A stone terrace along the cottage’s northern facade overlooks Mirror Lake, while near-floor-to-ceiling-height windows on the western side provide abundant natural light. The small-but-functional kitchen sits a few feet to the right of the front door.

A private bedroom and en suite bath are found at the rear of the house, in the southeast corner.

Looking north to Mirror Lake. The flagstone used throughout the cottage begins at the entry and continues to the stone terrace, blurring the distinction between exterior and interior spaces. ©Brian R. Hannan

When we arrived, I was so excited to see the cottage that I saw past the overcast, gray skies and soggy, brown yard. I took a quick tour of the house — all 880 square feet of it — and then hurried to make some pictures before the daylight faded.

Me, at the Seth Peterson Cottage. Photo by Joe Socki. ©Brian R. Hannan
©Brian R. Hannan

My friend and I then headed to the store to stock up for dinner that night (T-bone steaks, caramelized onion/mushroom and Caesar salad) and breakfast the next morning (poached eggs, toast, bacon and coffee). I built a blazing fire in the fireplace; after dinner, we sat around the hearth and talked over gin and tonic.

I especially enjoyed hearing this song play on my iPad during a lull in the conversation. (“The Light” by The Album Leaf)

Snow began falling as we chatted and continued overnight. We awoke to a winter wonderland.

©Brian R. Hannan
©Brian R. Hannan
Seth Peterson

Laying in bed that evening before I fell asleep, I thought of Peterson and the dream that brought him to this idyllic spot. His long-fought campaign to convince a reluctant Wright to design a house for him finally paid off, and he looked forward to sharing it with his fiancée.

And then Wright, a childhood hero with whom Peterson shared a birthday, died. One year and one day later, Peterson — troubled by that loss, the end of his engagement and mounting construction costs — took his own life. He never lived in the cottage that today bears his name and would not exist without him. I found myself feeling sad for, and grateful to, that young man for this gift, a legacy so many people will be able to enjoy on his behalf.

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