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1997 Life Dream house

Posted: Sun Jul 30, 2006 12:48 am
by RJH
I have seen the outside of the 1997 Life Dream house design by Rattnbury in Portola, CA. I have also been inside and outside of an owner modified 97 LDH being built in Ohio.


LIFE Dream Houses

Posted: Tue Aug 08, 2006 11:17 pm
by John
Does anyone have a list of built LIFE Dream houses?

Remember, Wright's first design for LIFE was built in Two Rivers, WI (though designed for Minneapolis, MN) and is for rent.

Posted: Thu Aug 10, 2006 8:43 am
by Deke
One of my pet theories as to why Wright consistently under-estimated the cost of homes in his latter decades was that he still had a 19th century concept of labor costs. He was accustomed to designing incredibly labor intensive prairie homes when skilled masons, cabinet makers, and stained glass artists were cheap. Even the simpler Usonians were still labor intensive. I've often wondered if a Usonian design, based on a 4 foot grid, could be replicated with modern off-the-shelf components like plywood sip panels and standard casement windows.


Rattenbury Life Dream House

Posted: Thu Aug 10, 2006 9:20 pm
by Michael Shuck
I will start building the Rattenbury Dream House in March, 2007, near Wichita, Kansas.

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.


LIFE house

Posted: Thu Aug 10, 2006 11:20 pm
by John
As I understand it, the LIFE house had a number of variations that one could choose, especially the roof line. Which one is yours?

Life Magazine Dream House

Posted: Thu Aug 10, 2006 11:39 pm
by Michael Shuck
I'll be building the Linden. It looks more like a Prairie style home and not much like a Usonian. Has the roof pitch that is common to FLW designs. Has the extended eaves. They have one that I also like called the "Hawthorne" that is pretty, but very bold; it's too bold for my tastes, actually. But I like it. He has a pseudo-Pueblo style and others. Amazing really, that all these elevations are based on the same floorplan.

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. 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!


Posted: Fri Aug 11, 2006 12:11 am
by hypnoraygun
Mike this sounds great. Please keep us updated when you begin to build. Are you going to film/photo your progress and put it on a site or book? That would be very interesting to me. I would some day like to build a FLW style home. I would like to hear about the issues you encounter.. Good luck!

Posted: Fri Aug 11, 2006 12:09 pm
by RJH
I think your information on the Nemacolin Club House is incorrect. The design WAS modified AND expanded from the original Wright drawings. I am absolutely sure of that. I have also been inside the building. Wright also used native stone for his works. I was told all the stone was brought in from Mexico for this project. It is still a very beautiful design but the interior appeared so modified that I didn

Posted: Fri Aug 11, 2006 12:38 pm
by RJH
Correction - Nakoma Club House

Gold Mountain

Posted: Fri Aug 11, 2006 9:22 pm
by Michael Shuck
Thank you so much setting me straight on the Nakoma club house. I remember it as being intriguing and odd at the same time. It appeared to be incredibly well-built. Peggy did not have the key with her, so I did not go inside. She did say the stone came from Mexico ... all 125 truckloads of it (I don't know the size of the trucks). I believe the LDH stone is native.

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. 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>

Documenting the Building of the Shuck LDH

Posted: Fri Aug 11, 2006 9:33 pm
by Michael Shuck
I want to document the entire process of building. Is there an accepted method of doing such a thing? I'm ignorant as to whether there is a "proper" process to follow for this. I'm currently keeping all correspondence and email with the contractor. Is there a standard for photographing the progress? If so, I'd like to follow protocol. I enjoyed Bernardine Hagan's book. It shows the site prior to construction, construction progress photos and copies of the correspondence. She provided a straight-forward, no-nonsense narrative.

Posted: Fri Aug 11, 2006 11:00 pm
by SDR
I notice that "This Old House" is now setting up one or more site cameras on some of their projects; the cameras take a still image every five or ten minutes and record the entire process of demo and (re)construction. I wonder who knows about that deal ? The results can be seen on their website (they did a modernist rebuild in Cambridge, MA last year -- with a Fallingwater-esque steet elevation !).

Good luck on YOUR new "old house" !


Wichita construction

Posted: Tue Aug 15, 2006 9:24 pm
by FTA

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

our life dream house

Posted: Thu Aug 17, 2006 10:23 pm
by jimgiles
My wife and I are nearing completion of our 97 Dream House which we are building on a hillside overlooking the Kokosing River in Gambier, Ohio. We've had the time of our lives. It is true, as others have noted, that the house is expensive to build. I've been wondering how many other Dream Houses had been built and where, and what the owner's experiences were.

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.

Life Magazine Dream House

Posted: Sat Aug 19, 2006 1:57 pm
by Michael Shuck
Your house sounds like it is going to be beautiful! I would very much appreciate any suggestions you might give me. Construction on mine starts in March. Any reason you went with Mr. Irani instead of through Mr. Rattenbury? I would appreciate any photos, construction or otherwise, you could email me! Mike