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A life lived Wright
In 1948, Frank Lloyd Wright designed a house in Orinda where Katie Buehler has been 'living graciously' ever since
Marie Krenz, Special to The Chronicle
Saturday, October 1, 2005
Carmel has the distinction of a stunning Frank Lloyd Wright home visible on a point beyond the beach and above the surf. San Francisco has a Wright building on the north side of Maiden Lane that was built as the V.C. Morris store for gifts and home wares. Marin County possesses an extraordinary example of the Wright genius in its Civic Center, where visitors can arrange for docent tours through every facet of the buildings designed by the master architect.
There's also an architectural treasure that lies almost hidden in a cul-de-sac off a quiet Orinda road. It is one of the few homes in the San Francisco Bay Area designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (the Hanna home on the Stanford University campus is another).
In 1948 Katie and Maynard Buehler decided to build a home on their Orinda property. Their first acre cost $1,850, the second acre $5,000, and the third, $7,500, as they purchased more land to provide privacy and space for a large garden. After having admired pictures of Frank Lloyd Wright homes, Katie wrote to ask if Wright would build for them. Weeks passed without an acknowledgement; then one day the telephone rang and a voice said, "This is your architect." Thus began an interesting, and frequently trying, relationship.
Wright came to inspect the property before he began the plans. His drawings took four months. The house went up in a year.
According to the widowed Buehler, who still lives in her mostly unchanged home, the architect always wore his signature wide-brimmed hat, cape, long chain, fob and watch. He carried a cane with which he tapped and tested every board in the building. His manner could be described as arrogant, she said. "He was supremely tickled with his talent; confidence oozed from every pore."
Everything had to be the way Wright decreed, including a small kitchen rather than the larger one she suggested. His comment, Buehler said, was, "Madam, you don't seem to understand that all women have been emancipated from the kitchen." As it turned out, he was correct about the size, she said. The kitchen was well designed and worked efficiently. He also told the Buehlers, "You do not build down to please your clients."
As the building progressed, a Wright representative remained on site to monitor the day-to-day work. Wright himself appeared occasionally. Buehler remembers another "This is your architect" call. Wright had taken a suite at the St. Francis Hotel and invited them for a 7:30 Saturday breakfast. The Buehlers usually breakfasted later on Saturdays, so Katie asked, "7:30?" Wright said, "I can easily make it 6:30." They were there at 7:30. The suite was lovely, and the breakfast good. Maynard Buehler received the bill for all three meals.
The front door of the handsome redwood house is reached by a walkway under a low overhang. The beautiful copper roof never leaks. In the entry hall, a turn to the right leads to a large curved living room with a long upholstered banquette against tall windows. Wright designed the banquette and coffee tables, as well as the dining room furniture visible through the open end of the living room. The dining table was assembled in triangles, and the chairs have low curved backs to ensure an unimpeded view of the garden for people seated in the living room. Gold leaf covers the tall, slanted ceiling of the living room, as well as the lower ceiling of the dining room.
A hallmark of Wright architecture is the varying heights of rooms and hallways. When the building was completed, a young county inspector took exception to the low ceilings and called his office. His superior must have asked who the architect was, because the young man was heard to say, "Some guy by the name of Wright." His boss arrived within the hour to grant approval.
On one occasion the Buehlers drove Wright to Napa to inspect some building materials. Their route took them past the new high school, of which the Buehlers and the community were proud. Wright's comment: "It looks like a shoe factory. A cheap shoe factory."
In Napa, Wright saw a pink-toned basalt brick that he decided would be better than the gray bricks already in place. Maynard Buehler whispered to his wife, "Over my dead body." The bricks were not changed.
The house sits on 3 1/2 acres landscaped by Henry Matsutani, who had worked on the renovation of the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. Given a free hand, Matsutani designed a garden with bridges, statuary, ponds and waterfalls. The sound of water helped to quiet background traffic noise. The Buehlers erected a fence to prevent sightseers from parking on the road and walking down through the garden to view the house. Buehler said she and her husband were disconcerted by critics who found their wish for privacy inconsiderate, especially because the couple welcomed group tours to their home and garden.
Henry Matsutani and the Buehlers worked together for many years to produce a beautiful garden. The designer was always adding something and never really finished, she said. He visited frequently, often timing his arrival to join the Buehlers for breakfasts of bacon, eggs and heavily buttered toast served on the terrace. Maynard Buehler had to leave for his office, but Katie sat with their guest while he admired his handiwork. She recalls him saying, "I love to look at this, because I did such a good job."
Wright also put the stamp of approval on his own work. When he returned to visit the completed project, Buehler said, he told the owners: "I am glad to see you are living graciously in my house."
E-mail Marie Krenz at email@example.com.
See the article for photos:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.c ... EVRS81.DTL