Behind the Scenes: Q&A with Remarkable Homes host Michael Bridgeman

February 27, 2015 Wisconsin Public Television Leave a Comment

Host Michael Bridgeman speaks with the owner of the Havilah Babcock house in Neenah, WI.

Watch Online Now  – Remarkable Homes of Wisconsin

If you’re looking for a glimpse of summer and some architectural gems, check out one of our newest shows, Remarkable Homes of Wisconsin, premiering 7 p.m. Monday, March 2. Inspired by the Wisconsin Historical Society’s book, Wisconsin’s Own: Twenty Remarkable Homes, the new program showcases six buildings that are truly works of art. The show explores not only the architectural details, but also the families and stories behind the historical houses. Host Michael Bridgeman sat down with me one afternoon to talk about how the show came together.

What about this project caught your attention?
“This project was great; it’s exactly the kind of thing I like to do. I actually started my undergraduate studies as an architecture major. I was always going to be, I thought, an architect and was a big youthful fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. My architectural career in college lasted exactly one semester, but my interest never waned.”

How does your work with the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation and Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin change the way you see the show?
“My work is low-level, but it helps me see how these things are viewed by professionals. There are all kinds of ways to approach these things: as a fan, enthusiast, architect or academic. I dabble in several of those, but I’m not a trained professional by any means.”

Producer Jon Hornbacher and videographer Mike Baron behind the lens during a “Remarkable Homes of Wisconsin” shoot.

Did you learn anything new while working on this project?
“I’ve learned a lot about how a show comes together. I think the most surprising thing is just how hard the producer and the videographer work. From the moment they arrive until the moment they leave, they’re shooting video. You can’t sit around and scratch your head, wondering what to do next. They’re usually thinking ahead; I was very impressed by that. If you threw me into that situation, I would sort of dither. Jon (Hornbacher) is producing it. He’s writing the script and he’s editing it; he’s doing everything. He’s really carrying the burden on this.”

As an audience, what can we expect from the show?
“Well, the book is about architecture and design, but it’s also about history. What do we think is important? How do we express what we believe in? It’s about people and the times, and we’re trying to touch on that with the show. We’re giving people a flavor of each of the six houses: some sense of what they’re like and why – both historically and today.”

What makes these buildings unique?
“Buildings are always a reflection of the people who built them. Always. But it’s not just about the people; it’s about the culture and the country more broadly. These are very high-end custom-built houses for very wealthy people. These are not the houses I grew up in; the people who designed them had more ability to express themselves than most of us do. They’re able to do things in a way and at a level that most of us can’t. That’s part of what makes them interesting.”

The Island of Happy Days, or Stout’s Island Lodge in Birchwood, WI.

Can you tell us a little bit about one of the properties?
“One of the properties is called the “Island of Happy Days.” The house is up in Barron County, and it was built as a north woods retreat by Frank Stout, who owned vast properties in northern Wisconsin from his family’s lumber holdings. It’s on an island that he owned and it’s a fascinating building in its own right, but more than the architecture it’s about the stories of the place. It’s the setting and the way the Stout family used it. They lived there virtually every summer. It was clearly a very important place for this family, and that’s part of what gives it its charm and allure. It’s a wonderful setting because you’re in the north woods on an island, in this self-contained world with this charmingly rustic building, but there’s more to it than that.”

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