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Wright home is open to public
By Tim Brouk
Lafayette Journal and Courier
May 21, 2006
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- There's a house in West Lafayette that puts all the homes on "MTV Cribs" to shame.
This house is innovative, historic and a live-in work of art -- none other than Frank Lloyd Wright's Samara, 1301 Woodland Ave.
The remarkable, 2,200-square foot Usonian house is inhabited by original owner John Christian, an 88-year-old retired Purdue professor.
This year, Samara celebrates its 50th anniversary with events and tours. While Christian has had a half century to fill his home with furniture and items to enhance Wright's one-of-a-kind design, he is still carrying out Wright's long list of items to accent the home.
"I'm still adding things Wright told us to," Christian said. "I found the right bedspread for the guest room last week."
Samara's 50th anniversary celebration is being organized by the West Lafayette Public Library, which also has a display of Samara items and Christian's personal collection of Wright prints on display through July 30. The items on display at the library are extra pieces of furniture and decorations that are often shipped out to various Wright exhibits around the world. When not in a museum, the extra items used to be stored in a self-storage facility in West Lafayette. Library director Nick Schenkel learned of this and suggested the precious Wright-designed items be stored in the library's basement -- a safer, drier and more maintained area.
Christian allows tours to be offered of the home with the help of his interpreters including Linda Eales. A teacher, Eales took one of her classes to tour Samara, and she immediately fell in love with the house.
"I told John that I wanted to live here," Eales laughed. "He said 'You can't do that, but you can become an interpreter."'
The moment you enter Samara, you are struck by the openness of the interior, the repetition of shapes, and the use of 30-, 60- and 90-degree angles. In his Usonian homes, Wright focused on natural materials. For Christian and his late wife, Catherine, Wright decided on the use of Philippine mahogany as the main material. Wright had several meetings with the Christians from 1950 to 1955, and he chose that wood "to match Catherine's elegance," said Wally Rogers, another Samara interpreter.
Ample brick, glass and concrete floors fill out Samara's interiors.
"You won't find things painted around here," Rogers said. "Everything's natural."
Samara, which means "winged seed in motion," was represented by a triangular and trapezoidal shape that can be found on windows, "origami" chairs, rugs and the fold-up TV trays.
The trays tend to get a lot of attention as they are removable, and the Philippine mahogany stands fold up like books on piano hinges.
While designed in the early 1950s, Wright predicted television would become important. He said Samara should have three TVs, but all would be hidden, due to their unattractive design in the 1950s. Christian's living room television rises out of a cabinet.
Wright specified many items that the Christians should buy. Most of those items have an Asian, especially Japanese, theme.
Rogers said Wright was taken by Asian art and its link to nature while designing Samara.
The Asian theme extends to the exterior of the home with plenty of Japanese gardens, statues and decor surrounding the lush, green backyard that looks over a small valley.
Samara itself is built to fit into the hill, not on top of it.
"The sound from the nearby highway [Northwestern Avenue] tends to go over the house," Rogers said. "Wright's design considered everything."
Christian marveled that it has been 50 years since he and his wife moved into Samara.
"It's gone by awfully fast," Christian said.
"I've been very busy with my job and fulfilling Mr. Wright's plan."