Up North, Looking East: A Reclaimed Timber Japanese-Style House in Wisconsin

Built using trees thinned from the well-nurtured forest around it, a home brings the wisdom of Japanese farmhouse building to the Wisconsin woods.

| November/December 2011

In traditional minka—the humble dwellings of Japanese farmers, artisans and merchants—carpenters made use of what the upper classes overlooked, often bent and irregular wood that was cheap and locally available. Over centuries, Japanese carpenters developed an elegant interlocking framing system that unites crooked pieces of lumber in a dynamic, happenstance dance. Inside a minka, the sum is more than the parts. And every part is unique.

Gordon and Patricia Greene, longtime Zen students who have spent considerable time in Japan, set out to capture the spirit of minka—creating serenity and beauty out of the materials around you—without creating a Japanese-style house. The Greenes paid homage to minka design by culling every construction material for their timberframe home in southwestern Wisconsin from the surrounding woods. Made up of the weak trees they removed to make the forest healthier, the home is a testament to the potential and perfection in natural materials often deemed worthless. Gordon and Patricia gauge their success by the reactions of their frequent Japanese guests. “It’s always wonderful to watch them,” Gordon says. “They do a double take. They know they’re not in Japan, but the feeling is there.”

The Perfect Setting 

Gordon and Patricia had a longtime interest in designing their own home, a fascination that runs in Gordon’s family. His grandfather had an early Frank Lloyd Wright home built, and his parents built several different styles of homes as Gordon was growing up. When he and Patricia left Hawaii for Wisconsin to be near family in 2006, part of their motive was to design their own home, and they were determined to find the perfect setting—one that provided a connection with nature and local construction materials.

Though they had searched for the right piece of Wisconsin land several times when visiting, the couple ended up buying their 110 acres near Taliesin (Wright’s famous Wisconsin home) sight unseen. When their realtor called to say the rare and desirable wooded location had come up for sale, Gordon and Patricia asked a friend to drive from Madison and take a look. He declared the land pristine and beautiful, and the Greenes snapped it up. When the friend visited Gordon and Patricia in Hawaii a couple of weeks later, he brought walnuts from the property. The couple knew the durable, beautiful wood of walnut trees would be ideal for building their home and providing the basis of a managed forest. “I felt like it was meant to be,” Patricia says.

A Design Emerges 

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: August 4-5, 2018
Albany, OR

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on natural health, organic gardening, real food and more!


Subscribe today and save 58%

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living !

Mother Earth LivingWelcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $19.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $24.95.

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds

Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved
Ogden Publications, Inc., 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, Kansas 66609-1265