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Wisconsin Home with Organic Architecture

A prairie style home in Racine, Wisconsin respects light and nature

Written by Amy Elbert
  • John Reed Forsman

    Deep overhangs, a horizontal profile, and expanses of glass reflect Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence on fellow Wisconsin architect Ken Dahlin. Many of Wright’s Prairie School principles are evident in Ken’s new home in Racine, Wisconsin.

    "I’ve always had a love of organic architecture, even when I was in high school," Ken says. "Frank Lloyd Wright was one of my original architectural heroes. The idea of architecture integrating with nature has always been important to me, long before we were talking about green and sustainability. It just seemed natural (no pun intended) for our firm to get more specifically involved in the green aspects of design," he adds.

    Ken founded his firm, Genesis, in 1992, with a focus on creating residences that "respect light and nature." While designing primarily high-end custom homes, Ken saw a need to make healthy and energy-efficient houses accessible and affordable to middle-income families. That led to the design of the home where he now lives with his wife, Kim, and 14-year-old son, Nathan.

    Some smart ideas from the Dahlins’ living room:

    • Energy-wise windows are low-E and argon-filled to protect against temperatures that can range from below zero to above 100 from Hurd.

    • A wood-burning fireplace with a fan blows heated air into the room from Majestic Products

    Photography: John Reed Forsman
    Produced by Hilary Rose

    Design: Ken Dahlin, Genesis Architecture, 4061 N. Main St., Suite 200, Racine, WI 53402-3116; 262/752-1894,

    Sofa and love seat ("York’’); sofa and love-seat fabric ("Desmond’’/Fawn microsuede); chairs by fireplace ("Candace’’); fabric on chairs (discontinued): Room & Board, 800/486-6554,
    Striped pillows; leather bench; stacking tables: owner’s collection.
    Table between chairs: Pier 1 Imports, 800/245-4595,
    Area rug ("Ferrara’’): Crate & Barrel, 800/996-9960,
    Flooring: stained concrete by Dura-Guard Inc., 262/635-9889.
    Sealer for floor: water-based epoxy sealer. Windows (low-E argon-filled wood windows with aluminum cladding): Hurd Windows, 800/223-4873,
    Fireplace mantel; wood trim (cherry); fireplace surround ("Verde Tropic’’): custom.
    Art above fireplace (by Ed Lazzeroni): Ed Lazzeroni, 262/681-6303.
    Paint on lower wall ("Sawdust’’ #6158); ceiling and upper-wall paint ("Bagel’’ #6114): The Sherwin-Williams Co., 800/474-3794,
    Recessed lighting: Halo Lighting,

  • John Reed Forsman

    The 2,560-square-foot main level has an open floor plan, with the public areas—great room, kitchen, and dining area—at its core. On the periphery are the private zones—bedrooms, baths, and an "away room," where Nathan plays the piano. The 2,900-square-foot basement is fully finished, with a family TV room, game room, exercise area, additional bedroom, and a storage area. Making full use of a home’s square footage is just one way Ken conserves energy.

    The home was built with insulated concrete forms (ICF), which shield the house from outdoor temperatures and buffer noise. ICF are large foam blocks that are stacked to form the house’s foundation and outer walls. Concrete is poured into the blocks to make extremely strong and airtight walls. "The problem with typical 2x6-stud-wall construction is that every stud is a way for cold to get through; it’s a thermal bridge," Ken explains. "With ICF there are no thermal bridges." From a healthy home aspect, the ICF walls do not support mold growth and are formaldehyde free. The walls also are fire- and insect-resistant.

    "Concrete’s greatest green or sustainable contribution lies in its durability," Ken says. "It’s going to be there for 100 years unless someone tears it out." And when it is torn out, it’s recyclable. "It can be ground down to make more concrete. It’s not a landfill issue," he says.

    Ideas from the Dahlins’ kitchen:

    • An in-floor hydro-heat system that warms the house is divided into zones, so rooms can be heated at different levels simultaneously.

    • Dual refrigeration from SubZero—separate compressors for the freezer and refrigerator—keeps foods fresh longer and prevents the exchange of odors between compartments. Air- and water-filtration systems eliminate bacteria and impurities that can affect foods, ice, and water. The 42-inch-wide appliance runs on less energy than that required to power a 100-watt lightbulb.

    Cabinetry: Kitchen Craft Cabinetry, 800/463-9707,
    Cabinetry hardware (brushed stainless): Deltana Architectural Hardware, 800/665-2226,
    Range hood (stainless steel); cooktop; oven; microwave; warming drawer: Wolf, Sub-Zero/Wolf, 800/332-9513,
    Refrigerator: Sub-Zero Freezer Co. Inc., 800/222-7820,
    Countertops and backsplash tile ("Gallo Veneziano’’’ granite): Wisconsin Stone Design, 414/744-8515.
    Island sink ("Undertone’’ round stainless sink); island faucet ("Wellspring’’ beverage faucet with filtration): Kohler Co., 800/456-4537,
    Counter stools ("Milan’’ counter-height stools/black leather): Room & Board, 800/486-6554,

  • John Reed Forsman

    Floors throughout the house are constructed of concrete, Styrofoam panels, and metal rebar. "The floor is 18 inches thick, so the house is built sort of like a bomb shelter," Ken says. A four-foot grid pattern was cut into the concrete and floors were stained a
    warm rust color, with a satin-sheen water-based sealer protecting them. "Architecturally, the uniform floor gives a nice flow of space and continuity of materials," Ken says. Wool area rugs and changing ceiling heights define different living spaces.

    The house’s hydro-in-floor heating system is powered by a European-made boiler that also heats the family’s water. "It’s one of the most efficient boilers on the market today," Ken says. "And it’s very compact—about the size of a small file cabinet." The in-floor heat is divided into seven zones, each with its own thermostat so areas of the house can be adjusted to different heat levels. The house does have a backup forced-air system with ductwork, primarily to power the home’s air conditioning.

    The Dahlins’ house was completed in late 2004, and since that time there has been enormous growth in green design. Alternative construction techniques such as ICF and prefab building are gaining acceptance with builders, Ken says, and so is going green.

    Some more smart ideas incorporated in the Dahlins’ house:

    • Fresh air flows thanks to an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) from Broan that exchanges indoor and outdoor air and also filters indoor allergens and pollutants.

    • Daylighting and ventilation is provided by remote-operable skylights from Velux in the kitchen and above the fireplace mantel.

    Table ("Metropolitan Collection Straight-Leg Dining table’’ #7744 in #718 Morris Plains stain on cherry); dining chairs (#330): Stickley Furniture, 315/682-5500,
    Wall sconces: Hubbardton Forge, 800/826-4766,
    Table runner: owner’s collection.

  • John Reed Forsman

    Designing sustainable, energy-efficient, and comfortable homes has been a passion for Ken Dahlin (shown here with son Nathan holding Edward the Shih Tzu and wife Kim) ever since he received his master’s degree in architecture in 1986 at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, he twice won a Better Homes & Gardens "Innovations in Housing" competition and was given the magazine’s "Home of the Year" award three times. Today Dahlin and his team design homes "that balance human scale with natural flowing spaces," he says. "No pretense, no gimmicks."

    Front door (custom, with custom etched glass pattern designed by Ken Dahlin): Genesis Architecture, 262/752-1894.
    Hanging lights: IKEA, 800/434-4532,