Usonian Ceilings

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LBF
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Usonian Ceilings

Post by LBF »

Does anyone know why some Usonian ceilings were plaster while others wood such as mahogany? Client preference? Climate? Were some wood ceilings changed to plaster? Just curious as to why. Welcome your thoughts.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

A welcome question. I have a few opening thoughts.


One could start with Mr Wright's "recipe" for the Usonian house, as published (alongside pictures of Jacobs I) in The Natural House (pp 83-4):

1. Visible roofs are expensive and unnecessary.

2. A garage is no longer necessary . . .

3. The old-fashioned basement . . . was always a plague spot . . .

4. Interior "trim" is no longer necessary.

5. We need no radiators, no light fixtures . . .

6. Furniture, pictures and bric-a-brac are unnecessary . . .

7. No painting at all . . .

8. No plastering in the building.

9. No gutters, no downspouts.



Later, Mr Wright designed more elaborate and luxurious houses, still counted and called Usonian, which had sand-plaster surfaces, a material he had exploited well in earlier years. I think it is safe to say that all ceilings are as the architect designed them, unaltered. A conspicuous exception is found, of all places, at Jacobs I, where Mr Wright initially specified a fiber-board material as ceiling cover. Eager to carry out the architect's every wish for their pioneering home, Mr and Mrs Jacobs soon replaced that surface with the beautiful boarded ceiling which graces the house today.

SDR

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

The Jacobs I issue was cost.

Duncan
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Post by Duncan »

Here's what the Hanna's said about their ceilings (Frank Lloyd Wright's Hanna House: The Clients' Report, MIT Press, 1981. p. 115):
"We had never like the Nu-wood ceiling, an economy compromise in the 1937 construction. Mr. Wright's plans had called for redwood ceilings, but we had feared that redwood would seem dark and heavy; we liked to look up to a light surface. Years later, in 1952, we had found a material in Manila that appealed: a cloth, called saguaro, woven of native fiber. We ordered several bolts, and when they arrived, the cloth was pasted to the Nu-wood in the living room and dining room. Mr. Wright approved the results. Then, when we were remodeling in 1957, we sent for six more bolts of saguaro and had ceilings throughout the main house covered with the material."

I believe Nu-wood was redwood plywood that was textured along the grain with a wire brush. That material can be seen on the ceilings of the Walker house today. In the Hanna house, the saguaro has the effect of an off-white burlap, and is trimmed with periodic redwood battens.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

I thought we had a thread here with discussion of the Nu-Wood product. Someone recently brought out a recreation of this material -- which appears to be wire-brushed but is actually milled to that random-striated texture.

I can't find hide nor hair of it now . . .

SDR

DRN
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Post by DRN »

SDR:
I'm unable to cut and paste the link at the moment, but the thread you are remembering was about the striated plywood developed by Donald Deskey; we discussed the topic in August 2014. A key word search of "Deskey" or "striated" should pull it up.

peterm
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Post by peterm »

It might be possible that by 1950, partially due to Wright's reputation of designing ceilings that were too low, certain clients might have also felt that the wood ceilings might tend to make the interiors too dark, and therefore requested the plaster to ensure a brighter space. The semi-rustic cabin-like interiors of the 1930s had gradually evolved into more spacious and luxurious homes for upper middle class and wealthy homeowners, many of whom would have also wanted to show off their collections with additional natural light. Cypress, mahogany and redwood all darken quickly over time. Wright himself might have recognized the need for brighter interiors.

In addition, because wood prices began to climb faster than labor wages after World War 11, the economic advantages of using plaster would allow for more design, and less money spent on materials.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Did Wright use gypsum board at any point in his career ?

SDR

peterm
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Post by peterm »

SDR wrote:I thought we had a thread here with discussion of the Nu-Wood product. Someone recently brought out a recreation of this material -- which appears to be wire-brushed but is actually milled to that random-striated texture.

I can't find hide nor hair of it now . . .

SDR
Is this what you were looking for?

http://www.vintageplywood.com

http://www.savewright.org/wright_chat/v ... ff+nichols

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Thanks, DRN and Peter . . .

SDR

DRN
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Post by DRN »

Wright specified 3/8" gypsum board coated with sand finish paint at the Sweeton house in 1950 for reasons of cost. 1/4" luan plywood with the same finish was specified for exterior soffits and the undersides of interior decks.

Unbrook
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Usonian Ceilings

Post by Unbrook »

The ceilings at the Weltzheimer house are redwood, although the specified species was cypress. Our story goes that after WWII, cypress was in short supply due to its use in the war effort. Mr. Weltzheimer was able to locate redwood logs on the West Coast. They were brought to Ohio and milled locally.

Whatever the wood was, the intent is the same. The ceiling plane in the Living Room continues past the windows to the terrace, uniting the interior with the exterior.

LBF
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Joined: Fri Feb 20, 2015 6:19 pm

Post by LBF »

We are looking for a way to bring more light into our mid-century Usonian. Wood paneled ceilings are rather low in portions of the home and light in these areas is minimal, creating very dark spaces. Since many of the ceiling boards are damaged due to poor humidity control and also washed with an odd green-like stain/wax by the prior owner, we are contemplating plastering over the boards and painting, Wright Cloud White. While simply repairing the boards and painting WCW would be simpler than plastering over, I don't believe I've ever seen this done in a Usonian and I don't want to be the first person to attempt this as we are trying to keep the home close to origin condition with some modern updates. Any thoughts and/or suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you.

Palli
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Post by Palli »

It should not be forgotten that wood board ceilings were drawn to relate to the geometry of the plan quite differently than slab floors. The concrete was striated with a simple grid: only intersections between changes in axis or wall interruptions altered unit shape and size. Indeed, the building is designed upon the grid. On the other hand, "reflected ceiling" building sheets show linear patterning that relates directly to interior/exterior walls, the flow and termination between & within rooms and focal points within the space. Reflected ceiling plans are drawn after the plan is resolved and the spaces clearly defined.

As already said, wood ceilings of any kind confirm the unitary design principle: B & B walls and B & B ceilings. (Or lapped board walls and ceilings.)

I will scan some reflected ceiling plans and send to SDR for posted images.
The Perf Project

Unbrook
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Usonian Ceilings

Post by Unbrook »

I can understand the implied frugality of painting the wood ceiling, but would offer the phrase "What did Wright want?" In preserving Mr. Wright's architecture we need to consider if the solution would compromise the original intent of the architecture. We all must be stewards of his legacy.

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