This is the home I owned before moving to New York in the mid eighties. It is a true home set with nature not onto nature. It was designed by Penrose K. Spohn, born 1903, a young architect who worked under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin as in intern. All the images were taking on my recent trip to Pennsylvania.
Mr. Spohn said: “The first act of home-making – for man or animal – is leveling an area. But too often the level area is lost by setting a house on it. So I set the house over the level area at right angles.”
The house was about clarity, order and simplicity, set on three acres of beautiful woodland property. It was unique at the time where the outside was brought inside through walls of window, and the inside out with the interior use of natural materials, like all the fir paneling. There was a congruity with both realms. You can readily see the influence from the time it was built in 1960. The house was heated by radiant heat panels below the ceiling joists. This house really had new and innovative technology for the times.
I can easily talk about the unique construction from an architectural and engineering standpoint, but Vierendeel girders, patterning of bolt heads and Tectum roof planks are not of much interest to most of you. But, you can understand driveways.
The use of a gravel drive was a very environmentally sound decision, but I am not sure of the idea that it should be white. This was a conscious consideration by the architect, chosen to contrast with the green environment. I most likely would have taken a different direction, since the main theme generating the design was one of which the built environment would blend with the natural surroundings. To pull out such an insignificant element of the design and give it such importance, contradicts the underlying premise.
The white surface does mitigate heat, aiding in a cooler environment, but it does command visual attention. I planted four dogwood trees in the four original granite lined planting beds in 1981, but these are now gone. They softened the entry and made the drive fit in better with the surroundings. You can see, only one remains.
This area was not needed to park cars or as use as a turn around, so the trees were a benefit to the landscape. There were four planted beds with tulips and Muscari footing the dogwoods, but only the tree remained. These people must have removed them to enlarge the white gravel driveway.
The bed behind the drive still has the lupins, iris and Delphinium from what I can see.
This home influenced my desire to become an architect and to work with the environment. Mr. Spohn lived next door and I was a constant visitor, absorbing all the philosophical counsel I could muster. He was happy to entertain me knowing I was on a path similar to his.
I too had a very influential and well written mentor myself when I finally started working for a firm here in Buffalo. He was a very forward thinking, environmentally conscious architect, whom I greatly admired. And, best of all, he gave me free reign on all my designs. I was able to grow as a professional, be creative and innovative. I don’t talk much of my profession, but this is how I entered the field of architecture.
The house was set into the mountainside and the gardens were terraced with paths trailing through the woodland.
The woodland had many native wildflowers like Mayapple, phlox and Trillium. I could not see the gardens behind, but what I could see looked overgrown. There are two more stone walled, garden terraces which I could not get in an image. Maybe they are gone as well. The wildflower images you see here are from across the street from where I was photographing.
Something simple, but…
I remember feeding a family of raccoons here, under the huge oak where they lived out back. You can see the stairs out back in the first image of the home at the beginning of the post. I descended them every morning to feed my furry friends. The mother was a three-legged, tree climbing marvel, raising her family of four demanding and pesky young kits. Also a skunk family with the cutest of babies, six little tails held high, lined up soldier style behind her, awaiting a breakfast of the previous evening’s scraps. I never got sprayed, but my lab did a few times. They did not enjoy seeing him.
This is the entry to the main living area from the small foyer at grade. The diagonal side walls were fir, the floor, flagstone, making the connection of inside to out with the material choice.
Just for interest, to understand a bit of what an architect does while designing…
The diagonal planking of the entry core is functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. It acts to brace the structure from horizontal wind loads. You knew I could not throw in a little architecture stuff.
Sorry for the moiré pattern in the image. It is from House and Home magazine, November 1961, and this magazine was given to me by the architect. I kept it all these years.
This home was set in the mountain forest and spanned over a fast running stream running beneath the home, hence the home atop four wood columns. Each side of the home becomes a truss to bridge terraces, stream, and retaining walls in one single span. The four columns are the only portion firmly ground supported.
The simple floor plan is seen to the left.
Mr. Spohn was influenced by Wright’s design at Falling Water. And I was greatly influenced by him. I only wish he was around to know what an impact he had on me.
Next post… another garden tour in Pennsylvania.