Seth Peterson Cottage
At just 880-square feet, Wright’s smallest residential design manages to boil down Wright’s design philosophy to its essence.
Serene and energetic, the little cottage perched high above Mirror Lake is muscularly geometric, seeming at once to hug the earth and burst forth from it. Framed by strong buttresses of local Wisconsin sandstone, this one-room house possesses a monumentality belying its size. A soaring roof caps a wall of expansive windows opening toward the lake. Its original owner, Seth Peterson, had been an ardent admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright since he was a boy. He later applied to the Taliesin Fellowship but was told that there were no openings. Following several denied requests for Wright to build him a house, Peterson sent Wright a $1,000 retainer, which the perpetually cash-strapped architect immediately spent. Lacking the funds to return the fee, Wright had no choice but to accept the commission. Peterson, whose financial situation was also not ideal, tried to keep costs down by doing some of the construction himself, but unfortunately the 24-year-old grew increasingly troubled. In 1960, shortly before the house was finished, he committed suicide. Six years later the house was bought by the State of Wisconsin, which, intending to expand the adjacent Mirror Lake State Park, left it abandoned. In 1989 local volunteers formed the Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy and negotiated a lease with the State Parks Department to manage the house. After undergoing extensive renovations the cottage became the first Frank Lloyd Wright home available for overnight rental.