Magazine article Sunset

A Tall Man in a Short House

Magazine article Sunset

A Tall Man in a Short House

Article excerpt

A best-selling author falls in love with a rundown Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece. It changes his life

THE FIRST TIME I stepped into Frank Lloyd Wright's first California house, I had to duck. I was there at the (urgent, very urgent) behest of my wife, who, in the company of her sister, had toured the house the day before. It was, miraculously, for sale. And at a price comparable to the asking prices of other, lesser, houses in the neighborhood. My wife went all the way up to Santa Barbara to look at the place while I stayed at home in Los Angeles, writing and brooding. She'd seen an ad for a Frank Lloyd Wright house and was curious, though I tried to discourage her, imagining a too-small flat-roofed Usonian design, but I was wrong. Dead wrong. The George C. Stewart house, then being offered for sale by its third owner, was a soaring redwood structure built in 1909, the only example of Wright's Prairie style west of the Rockies. My wife called mein tears, overwhelmed by the quiet beauty of the house and at the same time falling prey to the fear that I might not immediately jump into the car, rush 70 miles north, and write a check that very moment. Before, needless to say, somebody else got it.

I was there the following morning, ducking, and we made our offer on the house that afternoon. We've been there ever since and have done our level best to restore the house to what the architect envisioned when he drew his preliminary sketch of it. Originally the house sat on 5 acres, now reduced to about a single acre, as the second owner, Mrs. Blickenstaff, subdivided the property for her children - and so, instead of coming in off Butterfly Lane to the east, you now come in from the north side of the house. The front door, a solid sheet of glass set in a redwood frame, is hidden from the street, a characteristic of the Prairie style; when you enter, if you're a certain height (I'm 6-foot-s, with a fluff of hair standing a wee bit beyond that), you are scraping the ceiling. This, of course, is by design. Wright wants you to feel constricted so that a moment later, when you step S feet to your left, you get the surprise of staring up into a two-story atrium as the.main room opens up around you in all its high-windowed glory.

Wright claimed to have been 5-foot-8V2, but was actually shorter. He joked that his ceilings were made to his own scale, but the truth is that he was playing for effect, and quite brilliantly. Still, there are two places in the Stewart house - at the bottom of the staircases to the basement and second floor - where I all but knocked myself unconscious on several occasions until acquiring a reflexive flinch by means of self-preservation.

There is a further method to these low ceilings: They provide a sense of well-being, particularly on a rainy night when you're sitting by the fire, enclosed by the high back of the couch, the projecting ceiling, and the deep scalloped hearth built of the very same Roman brick the architect used in his Oak Park, Illinois, house. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.