New Virtual Live Launch Open (V-LO) for Luxury Real Estate Starts with the Award-Winning Home “The Rainmaker House”
Real Estate pro Chris Kramer-Nesbitt of Shorewest has come up with a brilliant concept called the V-LO (Virtual Live Launch Open) for promoting luxury homes. Instead of the traditional open house that is typically a public tour for curious neighbors, she has developed a concept that cleverly merges the exclusive showing with the online social media event. “I took a page from the private open houses that are becoming popular in New York and LA real estate and took it one step further by sharing this experience with live feeds to Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook.” Kramer contends that the V-LO has the potential to become a powerful viral marketing tool. “It enables qualified prospects not onsite to connect to the property emotionally, hopefully inspiring them to see it in person.”
The test pilot for Kramer’s V-LO was the award-winning Rainmaker House in Delafield, WI, the brainchild of owner Mark Fossen. A space & exhibit display designer who has been in high demand by New York’s hospital and philanthropic sectors, Fossen designed a wondrous home custom-fit for his family dynamic while also being a showcase of his professional capabilities. It is an unlikely marriage that celebrates the family’s Norwegian heritage (including Norse Dragon designs on the scuppers and custom solid copper Viking shield lights), and has a multitude of sustainable living benefits.
Features of this spectacular property were captured with playful Tweets, Facebook status entries and other online expressions (all including photo links) offered by the guests, who included the social media team of Dynamismo. And for the more discerning reader, a blog chronicling the tour given by Mark Fossen that is posted on Kramer’s local business promotion site Waukesha and Beyond. To further help with drive SEO, the blogger posted the same article on his own site along with Fossen’s original renderings for the house.
As a seller, Mark Fossen was very pleased with the V-LO for his Rainmaker House. He felt that he was more empowered to elaborate on the intentions and inspirations of his design – including the sustainable elements – in a manner that open houses and MLS Listings don’t. “Along with price points and amenities, buyers in the luxury real estate market are also shopping for homes built with purpose,” Chris Kramer-Nesbitt asserts. “The V-LO turns the ho-hum open house into a festive experience akin to a gallery opening, but with added layers of participation thanks to online social media.”
Touring the Rainmaker House in Delafield (WI) with Mark Fossen
A “Shining City on a Hill” when it comes to Designing a Home based on Personal Vision AND Sustainable Living
On Monday evening, April 30th, I was invited to cover a social media event (as blogger/wordBrowne) at the locally renowned Rainmaker House in Delafield (WI). It was the first of the innovative Virtual Live Launch Opens (V-LOs) created by Chris Kramer-Nesbitt of Shorewest Realtors, while the social media component organized by Mary Jane Sanchez of Dynamismo. The aesthetics of the home no doubt lived up to it’s billing. And the location also very majestic (the site of the erstwhile Velkerman / a.k.a. Winter Haven Ski Hill that closed in the early ‘80s). But a guided tour with owner Mark Fossen revealed that this is truly a shining city on a hill when it comes to designing a home based on personal vision AND sustainable living.
Mark Fossen envisioned a home of “aesthetic distinction – without the burden of maintaining a typically oversized, excessively appointed executive home (http://www.therainmakerhouse.com/ - /Intro).” He utilized his skills as a display & space designer (as well as a professional photographer) to create a home that promoted his family dynamic, his Scandinavian heritage (Mark is 2nd generation Norse-American) and his commitment to greener living.
“I wouldn’t say that the house is ‘green’ (in that it doesn’t meet the complete criteria for such a designation). It’s more like aqua,” Mark jokes.
His assessment notwithstanding, there is an elaborate list of sustainable features that would impress many in the green movement.
- The split level home has all of the bedrooms in the basement, with a dehydration system built into the basement floor that keeps moisture and radon almost non-existent.
- The roof has unique 5-foot overhangs (the Frank Lloyd Wright homes had only 4-foot overhangs). They enable higher thermal gains in the winter and more shading in the summer.
- A Hydronic Heat system
- Repurposed materials, including hanging light fixtures from old warehouses. The fireplace was built from all leftover materials from scuppers, the dining room table, and copper Viking shield lighting covers used for the construction.
- 100 watt LED/fluorescent bulbs that can be left on all night.
- All porch floors, as well as the grill den floors were made with the same fiberglass treatment as hull boats. This prevents rotting and related water damage, and lasts for a very, very long time.
- No leftovers from construction. The deck from the garage was made from leftover materials in addition to the fireplace. There was only 1 dumpster of waste.
- Front and rear waterfall features that uses stored run-off from the roof gutters
- A Cedar Shake roof with a projected 50-year lifespan
- All building materials were local, including the faucets, which came from Kohler.
- “Super” natural landscaping, including
o stones were from the lot (Mark wanted house to look like it came out of the hill);
o remnants from the original ski hill, like the cement blocks from the chair lift;
o natural prairie landscape in the front with only a small portion of the yard treated; other wild growth continues down the hill in the backyard.
o gravel driveway
While the Rainmaker House does have powered air-conditioning, Mark has only turned it on 6 times in the last two years due to the aforementioned sustainable elements of his design. Indeed, there are several instances of Mark’s design in which the differing intentions actually marry together quite nicely. Perhaps the most notable is the dining room table.
“The house was designed around the dining room table,” according to Mark. “Because that is where we spend the majority of our time together as a family. The table was custom-designed for the house by craftsman Ron Bauman of Fieldmouse Wooden Stools in Neosho, and he only uses wood cut from trees that were removed from the ground for other purposes.”
To complement his Scandinavian theme, Mark put in outside and inside lights with copper covers resembling Viking shields. “We got the idea from the copper cover on our fire pit. Solid copper is so expensive, so I looked online and found these copper fire pit covers that were $60 per piece. We bought 60 of them and had them re-manufactured to look like Viking shields. After taking what he needed for the house, Mark sold the remaining shields and made money off the venture! The trademark Rainmaker Shield Lights use high efficiency LED bulbs.
It is interesting to note that the copper on the outside Viking shield lights are not painted, nor were they meant to be according to Mark Fossen, who wanted these treatments to look more like those arrayed alongside a Norwegian ark, as well as have a natural, weathered look. Other Norwegian influences include designs of Norse dragons on the scuppers that were cut out on C&C machines. The ambiance of the Norse design is perhaps most dramatic from the back porch – in addition to these elements, there is a stunning view of the woods and region below. And on a clear day, one can see Holy Hill some 15 miles away.
The kitchen was designed to be “too big” so as to enable more family and special event functions. Mark calls it an “entertaining kitchen.” It is part of a main floor theory intended to be “one big room.” Mark once had 75 guests for an Ice Age Trail Meeting, since the Rainmaker House stands at the foot of the Kettle Moraine. The kitchen Counters (along with the bathroom counters) are made from soapstone, with the top counter on the “island” separating the kitchen from the dining room is made from Orange Granite.
The big room is adorned with panoramic photos taken by Mark himself. As the Senior Partner of Milwaukee-based design firm Communicor, and owner/operator of the affiliate Rainmaker XLP (an exhibit fabricator and large-format graphics print shop), Mark wanted to fill the home with custom photos that utilize materials and techniques that are common in the commercial exhibit and display industry. A majority of his work takes place in New York, where wealthy donors commission him to design spaces and displays for the New York Presbyterian hospitals, Cornell Medical School Hospital, and Columbia Medical School.
A focal point of the photo collection is the loft in the “dining hall” portion of the big room. From the front entrance to the room, the first image that catches the eye is that of a coastal landscape of Voss, Norway – one of the more memorable views on the road to Mark’s ancestral home of Fossen. And because Mark travels to New York more than twenty times each year on business, he also has captures of the Manhattan in his collection, including the view of the Upper East Side from the Bentley Hotel, and the Beekman Tower Hotel.
Various photographs of his three sons cover the stairway walls going down to the basement, where the bedrooms are. The slightly enclosed media lounge of the Big room is filled with shots of hand-built old time race cars – part of an annual gathering of racecar enthusiasts that meet at the Milwaukee Mile.
The photos are enhanced with adjustable RGB, LED cove lighting that can be manipulated to match the occasion. Mark used only 3 understated paint colors – all known as “resoluble beiges” because he wanted most of the color for the house to come from the lights.
The 3-sided fireplace just beyond the dining room table provides warmth to both the dining hall and “media-free” sitting room, while providing both a natural separation between the two areas, as well as connectivity for Mark’s big room theory. The sitting room then gives way to a “3-season” screen porch that Mark uses as a grill den. The den/screen porch wraps around to the front porch, from which visitors can also enter. Mark says that the 3-season screen porch could be converted into a 4-season room or an interior room with the addition of enclosed windows. The aforementioned fiberglass hull boat treatment on the porch floor is also easy on the knees and feet with the natural “give” of the surface.
The basement consists of a master bedroom with walk-in closet, master bathroom, and spa area; two bedrooms across the hall from another bathroom; a sitting room / lobby that meets the stairs; and an office/guest room. All of this constitutes 1,665 sq. ft. of finished space. There is also 575 sq. ft. of utility space for laundry and plenty of space for storage and new room expansion. Along with its comfort and energy efficiencies, the lower level is not without the signature aesthetics of Mark’s vision. There are custom textured wall coverings that are photo reproductions of the trees that can be seen from the bedroom windows.
“I wanted to create a natural feeling with our bedroom area that we live in harmony with the hill. This feeling is consistent with my design intent in that I wanted the house to look like it came out of the hill.”
Mark adds that there is a den on the first floor with an adjacent bathroom that could double as a bedroom. There is an “info station” shelving unit that separates this area from the kitchen and the rest of the big room.
Other notable features of the Rainmaker House are
- a spacious boot room and closet area at the front entrance;
- a 1,334 sq. ft. garage & workshop that – according to Mark – has held up to 5 cars at one time.
- 592 sq. ft. of open & screen porches on the first floor (again, the view from the back deck is amazing); and a 600 sq. ft. lower level deck.
- An additional “garage” deck not on the original design that – as mentioned before – was made from leftover materials.
For me, and several of the other guests in attendance this night, the best part of the Rainmaker House was its manifestation of the owner himself. Mark Fesson is not an architect, yet this Art History Graduate from Mankato State University designed all of the renderings for the house by hand – just like he does for his renowned New York City projects (and with greater speed than his staff members who rely on the latest software). He also designed the house with all right angles to enable what he calls “more craftsmanship from the craftsmen.”
“When you simplify the process, you don’t overburden the craftsmen. You give them the opportunity to produce better quality results.”
The Rainmaker House and its 2-acre hill lot are on the market for $639,000. I’ve seen model houses and condos in Chicagoland for that price. I make no apologies for calling it a city on a hill, knowing that this overused cliche wields the potential to belittle a magnificently designed home, its sustainable benefits, and natural surroundings. Yet, when you consider the photographic tastes of New York from Mark’s second life there, and the other design elements that invited Mark Fossen to take his work home with him for the inclusion and benefit of his family, you sure as hell can’t call it suburbia – the Delafield address notwithstanding.
The Rainmaker moniker is derived from the original name of a small firm that he started more than 20 years ago. Since then, that small firm blossomed into 2 thriving businesses with a team of 40 designers and 4 production staff. Another key intention of the Rainmaker House was to also have a showroom for their exhibit fabrication and large-format graphics printing company donning the same name. While it was never utilized tremendously for this function, Mark’s work-related demonstrations are just as much of a demonstration that you are visiting a really cool house!
In closing, the city by original definition, or at least in the European tradition, was a central hub that blended civilization with art, nature and other cultural expressions, including ethnic influences, with the rural countryside never too far away, in fact, immediately surrounding.
This is the Rainmaker House – a shining city on a hill. I think Fredrick Law Olmstead would be proud.
And if we could zone this masterpiece of nature as a commercial property, I have plans of my own for any investors who want to turn the hospitality world on its head!
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