Listing of the Week: DIY Frank Lloyd Wright
The architect designed a modest home for a California engineer to build himself at a cost of $15,000. It's offered for $2.5 million — minus the doghouse Wright designed later.
One of Frank Lloyd Wright's dreams was to design a home that could easily be replicated by people of modest means.
For the most part, that dream of the "Usonian home" was not realized, though Wright did build a home for $5,500 for a newspaper reporter in Madison, Wis., in 1937. But most of Wright's work was commissioned by the wealthy.
Around 1950, Robert Berger, a mechanical engineer and college professor, wrote to Wright and asked him "to design a home which was expandable, inexpensive and easy for one person to build." Plus, the home could cost no more than $15,000 to construct.
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The architect obliged, and Berger spent most of the next decade building the home himself. That 1,760-square-foot home, north of San Francisco, is now for sale for $2.5 million – minus the doghouse that Wright designed later for the Bergers' son James.
The house has two bedrooms and two baths and is on almost an acre nestled in the hills in Marin County, with an expansive mountain view. Its exterior walls and fireplace are of "desert masonry," which mixes local stone with concrete. The home also is full of Wright-designed furniture, which Gloria Berger hired a carpenter to build after her husband's death in 1973. You can see photos here. Gloria Berger died last year.
Robert Berger loved the house, which he moved into with his wife and four children in 1957. He wrote in a letter to the author of this article:
"I, of course, when I started the house, had a dream. I wanted something that was beautiful first and utilitarian second. I found that the utility followed right along with the beauty, but to get to the beauty … it’s hard to talk about it. It’s a very emotional thing. I’m absolutely crazy about the house. It’s almost like my own child. …
"I really feel sorry for people who live in a house they use strictly as a shelter from the elements. It’s such a thrill to be feeling a work of art; actually living it. It’s almost like a living thing.”
The home also was the site of the only doghouse Wright was known to have designed, sketched out at the request of the Bergers' son James in 1956 though the family didn't build it until a decade later.
The original doghouse was torn down, but James and his brother built a new one recently for use in a documentary film about Wright.
FLW was a visionary architect but a poor engineer. His houses as well as his commercial buildings are a maintenance nightmare. I almost purchased a Wright house in the 1990's and I am glad I passed. I am sure this house is not too much different. It is part of history, but there are other properties.
Twenty five years from now:
"Let me pull the hovercar to the curb and show you something. You see those two ugly houses over there, that bland 2012 achitecture that we used to call 'McMansions' back in the day. Well, little Timmy, on that land once stood an important building by our greatist American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. It was a landmark in this town, was here before anything else. Long gone, you can see images of it on your intrawebnets brain scanner".
"Why isn't it there anymore, Daddy?"
"You know little Timmy, I just don't know why. Greed, I suppose".
The developers sound like they bought the house under false pretenses. How can anyone tear down a FLW house? They should just sell the property back to the family for the amount they paid for he and cancel the whole deal. Find another piece of land.
I've been to Fallingwater, been to Kentuck Knob and to one other of FLW's architectural abominations, and in my engineer's opinion, they'd all improve the landscape if they were torn down.
I've never understood the almost religious fervor his minions have for his work. I find it to be heavy-handed, trite, and ugly. His architecture is self indulgent and arcane, and the houses absolutely dour and unlivable.
Wright's architecture is just masturbation for architects and effete laymen the same way jazz is masturbation for musicians and pseudo-intellectual snobs.
The developers own it. If they want to paint it pink and put unicorns on the roof that's their business. Once the granddaughter sold it she gave up her right to open her pie-hole.
Wright was a great Architect. I wont say he was the greatest. I have seen some home designed by just plain everyday carpenters, that there designs would rival his.
I cringe every time i see and old house tore down.Bulldoziers come in one day and there gone the next day. It the american way see very little salvage going on,it to the land fill. I have seen homes build back in 1890s here texas that are better build than the one build today.
the usonian houses are nice.
i do hope we can preserve what's left of wright's residential work.
i'm an architect who'd gladly take the drawings for any usonian and and adapt them for today if an owner is interested.
just let me know and i'll send a contract!
About Teresa Mears
Teresa Mears is a veteran journalist who has been interested in houses since her father took her to tax auctions to carry the cash at age 10. A former editor of The Miami Herald's Home & Design section, she lives in South Florida where, in addition to writing about real estate, she publishes Miami on the Cheap to help her neighbors adjust to the loss of 60% of their property value.