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I have trouble looking at house plans and being able to conceptualize them in 3-dimension, so by luck, I was able to find the owner of the original home, Peggy Garner. She invited me about three weeks ago to Portola, California, to see it. I went!
This is the original home presented in the Life Magazine issue of May, 1997. She has done an outstanding job of keeping it up. She is quite wealthy, but chooses to live in this house when she could have one of greater monetary value. She told me she just loved the house. She also built with her own money the country club building at Gold Mountain. It is built from the Nakoma Country Club from 1924 (1928?) that FLW designed but was never built. She refused to make one deviation from the original plans and Taliesin oversaw all of it. It was awesome to walk around that magnificent structure!
The best thing about actually seeing a house after studying the plans for it first is that one can see aspects of it that are difficult to conceive from 2-d drawings only. I'm not the greatest fan of redwood and cedar siding, but in the mountains it is durable and strong and withstands the harsh winters there. Here in Kansas it is not so necessary. Mine will be brick and stucco. The quality of workmanship was quite good. All the organic architecture concepts as I understand them were in force! How Rattenbury could put all that in and make it still feel "modern" is just genius in my opinion. It uses the techniques of Wright: compression, tension, release. Lowered entry way, lowered interior soffets, then a 12 foot ceiling. Classic indirect interior lighting. Enter rooms from an angle. Large windows and french doors opening outward. It was such a peaceful feeling being in this house. From what I could tell, all the art glass was based on the Allen-Lambe house in Wichita, coincidentally. But don't quote me. I'm not 100% certain.
Ms. Garner actually owns the whole mountain, that is, 1280 acres, which she is developing in an interesting manner. All the houses must be built in FLW fashion by prescribed plans. Most of the houses there are the result of Taliesin designs. It is awesome to go there and see the seeds of an almost Broadacre development.
I'll not detail the LDH here to save time, but if anyone has an interest in the details of the house, I'd be happy to share what I saw and my insights.
When I was at Kentuck Knob last summer, I was smitten with that copper roof! I called two companies that supply copper roofs to get more info about using that on my house. BUT...it would cost an additional $50K to put on even this small house and in Kansas we have horrible hail storms. You can imagine what all that hail would do to a copper roof.
Rattenbury has alternate plans, as well, for the interior! He has flipped plans (my house is flipped compared to the original). The kitchen and the dining room can be flipped, as well, and that is what I have done. I liked the ability to sit at the dining table and look out the window, but I wanted more to stand at the sink and look out the window. And that option is offered. Another option is TWO masterbedrooms, a TWO story version and the regular 3 bedroom design. One can even add BASEMENT steps...the drawings for this are included with the plans. It's a very versatile design!
The art glass from Andersen is expensive. I'm going to enjoy it so much. I think the Eugene Masselink-like front door was nice, but I'd rather have that design somewhere inside the house. Interestingly, it was a purchased door and the art pieces seen were added.
I am going to follow only the changes John Rattenbury has sanctioned. Those changes are outlined in the plans. My comment about using a copper roof was flippant. Its looks great on the Kentuck Knob house, but the LDH doesn't borrow much from the Usonian style. And it shouldn't. They are distinctively different. I'm not an architect. I would love to hire John Rattenbury!
Peggy drove me by another LDH that is there. I looked it up on the web later since it is listed for sale. OMG...it is horrible! All white walls. I didn't see any art glass. They added a pool room, for God's sake. The kitchen wood is an odd, darkly-stained mishmash. The study has a regular desk sitting in the middle FACING THE DOORWAY. Their deck was enlarged for entertaining. I was worried from looking at the deck plans for the original LDH. In the plans, the deck doesn't appear to be big enough for much entertaining. Seeing it in person showed me there is plenty of deck space. The LDH is beautiful as designed. The fact that John Rattenbury encouraged changes to the design was phenomenal...but one should make only the changes he has sancitioned.
...and I did get a tour of all the lots that are for sale! <grin>
Good luck on YOUR new "old house" !
I am reading with interest your intent to build the Life Dream House near Wichita starting next March '07. (I don't live far from Wichita myself and am one who will anticipate your updates.)
As far as documenting, with the cultural interests in Wichita, would there possibly be grant money available to help you do this? I'm thinking, the Allen-Lambe house and the education building at WSU already say "Wright for Wichita." There could be someone who picks up the story of the Life Dream House who would help facilitate documentation. Perhaps as a student project through WSU? The art museum a couple of years ago curated one of the best exhibits of Wright pieces I've seen - the art glass exhibition - someone there has an interest in things Wright.
Not that the Life Dream House is Wright, but I think you could generate some interest. Maybe a local cable station, if nothing else, would document the story. My son, being a videographer and editor, makes me think there could even be students (high schoolers if not college) purusing careers in architecture, design, construction, or film, photography, video, etc., who would bite on a "story" and a "long-term" project??
My youngest sister wrote an article for the 50th Anniversay issue of KANSAS Magazine about the Allen Lambe house. (I helped arrange this with Howard Ellington and was with her when she did the interview and photo shoot.) Approach Howard with a proposal or get his suggestions. He may even consider doing a post-production exhibit at the house as he did with the Hoult house (the first Usonian, also intended for Wichita).
I think John Rattenbury would also be approachable for consultation. Don't hesitate to get his advice.
Several years ago, in conjunction with a group who had approached Taliesin about the legacy program (building a Wright original), we also approached PBS about doing a beginning-to-end documentation of a Wright building emerging from the archives to completion. (A dream yet unfulfilled.) Again, you're not building a Wright original, but rethink your equation for documenting, look outside the box, and be creative. Maybe even your contractor would benefit from documenting your project - for his own portfolio and gain?
And when you're done, throw a party for everyone involved - get this on film as well!
Okay ... I'll stop tossing ideas your way, but you got me thinking! Hopefully something will grab you in all my rambling. I will hope to be in touch with you, Mike, and look forward to learning more of your plans and progress! Congratulations on your choice.
Former Taliesin Apprentice
We started out corresponding with Gustad Irani at Taliesin about making multiple changes. We ended up making only a few modifications and working it all out with our builder (who has been fantasic). We had to adapt to our hillside site so we are on a masonry pier/basement inspired by Kentuck Knob. We pushed the closets back in the spare bedrooms (our kids are grown so we had different uses for these rooms) so we could access the basement with a spiral staircase. We pushed out the corner in the master suite to enlarge the bathroom and we reconfigured it slightly to avoid the "L" in the walk-in closet.. We did lose the architectural feature but that corner is the least noticeable on our site, and we welcome the larger bathroom. We canned the cabinets by the bar in the kitchen to open it up and get rid of what my wife referred to as the "drive up window " look---and now I have a fantastic view from my stove. Otherwise we stuck to the plans.
Our site is 42 acres and I was able to harvest a good quantitly of hardwood which we used for all the cabinitry and interior woodwork, even the exterior soffits. The fascia is cedar. We used quarter sawn oak for the undersides of all the light trays and then faced them in walnut. The cabinets and trim are cherry with walnut. The exterior is stucco and stone-massilon formation ohio sandstone from Briar Hill in Glenmont, Ohio which is about 1/2 hour away. We have concrete floors with radiant heat--with the basement we used I Beams and metal panning, then poured.
We love the feel of the house and cannot waite until we can experience living in it--but this is not a stage where we want to rush. Besides, we haven't sold our old house yet and we don't want the fun to end.