Saturday, May 31, 2003

Wright at home


A Frank Lloyd Wright house in Clifton will be auctioned, raising a question about the monetary value of mystique

By Michele Day
Enquirer contributor

[IMAGE] The living room of the Clifton house includes tables and a 28-foot-long bookcase designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
(Gary Landers photos)
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Just as Frank Lloyd Wright had planned, Miriam Gosling loves her living room best.

She loves its sprawling size. "How many houses do you know that you can have two grand pianos in one room and the room still looks big?" she says.

She loves the 28-foot-long mahogany bookcase that lines the back wall. "We needed every shelf," she says, gesturing to the hundreds of texts and tomes in the massive case.

And, oh yes, she loves that wall of windows. The 40-foot-long span of glass stretches floor to ceiling, with five glass doors opening onto a terrace and a breathtaking view of the nearby Rawson Woods Bird Preserve.

[IMAGE] The home's many windows let in lots of light.
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"When you look out, you don't see the street," Gosling says. "You don't see the (other) houses even. It's like you are alone in your little castle, surrounded by all those trees."

Some days - as she relishes the way the light shines just so through the windows or marvels at the precise lines of the terrace's concrete block walls - Gosling can't believe she's leaving her Clifton house designed by the world's most famous architect.

But on June 19, she plans to sell to the highest bidder.

After the death of her husband, David, about a year ago, Gosling decided the house was too large for one person and began making plans to sell.

Market value hard to say

[IMAGE] Miriam Gosling, left, and Ken Hughes, an historic preservationist, hold some of the original Wright drawings for the home
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The house's unique history made determining market value difficult. Fewer than 400 of the houses designed by the legendary architect exist, and fewer than a dozen are typically for sale in any given year. There are two more Wright-designed homes in the Tristate, one in Indian Hill and one in Amberley Village.

Gosling decided to use the auction approach in hopes that the house will set its own price.

"We're talking about a $400,000 neighborhood," says Earl Hatt of Coldwell Banker West Shell, who is acting as referring agent on the home. "With the auction, we're going to find out how much the mystique of Frank Lloyd Wright will add to that."

The sale also is being advertised through the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in Chicago, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Wright's buildings.

"Our advertising tries to reach those enthusiasts who have a strong interest in historical architecture, and Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in particular," says Ron Scherubel, executive director of the conservancy. "And we've been very successful at that. I get calls from all over the country and even all over the world from people who might be interested in buying a Frank Lloyd Wright house that's for sale."

Who might be interested?

Christopher Cain, executive director of the Cincinnati Preservation Association, expects two pools of people to be interested in Gosling's house.

"There are those who've always wanted a Frank Lloyd Wright house and those who like an unusual house in a great location," he says. "This house is a great combination of those two."

OTHER WRIGHT DESIGNS
The Clifton house that renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed as a wedding present for Cedric and Patricia Boulter in 1954 is one of three he completed in Cincinnati.

Earlier this month, members of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy Board toured the houses in Amberley Village and Indian Hill, as well as the one in Clifton.

They came away impressed not only with the homes' architectural designs, but with the considerable care that the owners have taken to preserve Wright's work, said Ron Scherubel, executive director of the conservancy.

"All three are really gems," he says.

Like the Boulter house, Cincinnati's other Frank Lloyd Wright originals were built during the architect's Usonian period from the 1930s to 1950s, when Wright emphasized such things as organic construction products and large family rooms.

The Amberley Village house, built for Gerald B. Tonkens in 1954, is a long, concrete block construction, Scherubel says. "And it's just gorgeous."

Wright usually intended for his Usonian-style homes to be small and economical to meet the needs of families with modest incomes. But the Indian Hill house he built for William P. Boswell in 1957 is one of the largest he designed, Scherubel says. "It's Usonian style but on a very grand scale; it has one of the largest living rooms ever created."

The Boulter house's urban, hillside setting and two-story plan make it unique, Scherubel says. The Tonkens and Boswell houses are more typical in those respects. They're long, low hugging-the-ground plans on large lots of more than an acre.

"Wright encouraged his clients to 'Get yourself a nice big lot with good views and then I'll design the house for you,'" Scherubel says.

Ohio can claim nine Frank Lloyd Wright-designed houses. Indiana has five and Kentucky has one, in Frankfort, Scherubel says.

IF YOU GO
The Cincinnati Preservation Association will offer tours of the Clifton house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright next Saturday.
Tours will be on the half hour, 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., with a maximum of 10 guests per tour. Cost: $10 per person.

For more information or to make a reservation, contact the association office at info@cincinnatipreservation.org or 721-4506.

It was the Wright connection, however, that led the Goslings to buy the house from its original owners, Cedric and Patricia Boulter, in 1989.

David Gosling used to tell the story that his visit to a Frank Lloyd Wright house as a teenager spurred his decision to become an architect. And in some ways, Wright guided the remainder of Gosling's life.

Gosling's study of architecture prompted a trip to Brazil, where he met Miriam. After their marriage, the couple settled in England. But then Frank Lloyd Wright directed them to Cincinnati.

The University of Cincinnati had been looking for someone to fill the position of eminent scholar of urban design.

After seeing some of David Gosling's books on architecture, university officials invited him to Cincinnati to discuss the position, Miriam Gosling says.

"He wasn't at all sure he wanted to go," she says. It took him two years to decide.

"One day they said, 'There's a Frank Lloyd Wright house going up for sale in Cincinnati. Bring Miriam and take a look.' That's what made him accept (the position)."

The Goslings' three children were grown when the couple moved to Cincinnati. But all three eventually followed their parents to the United States, and two married U.S. citizens.

"Now we have American grandchildren," Gosling says. "And it all started with Frank Lloyd Wright."

The architect probably would have liked the idea that he helped guide the course of the Goslings' lives. Influencing lifestyles was part of his home design philosophy.

The Clifton house, which was completed just a few years before Wright's death in 1959, is one of about 200 Usonian-style homes in the country. Some say Usonian stands for United States of North America. Through the style, Wright sought to build an affordable house with beautiful architectural features.

"This house is the hallmark of Wright's thinking in his later years about how we should live," says Ken Hughes, owner of Decorative Restorations, which has done several renovation projects for the Goslings.

"Wright thought the family should be together," Gosling explains. That's why he created the large family rooms and furnished them with specially designed chairs and coffee tables that complemented his architecture. The original furniture will sell with the house.

Bedrooms, kitchen small

Since he wanted to avoid isolating family members, Wright also made bedrooms small, but efficient. Visitors to the second floor of the Clifton home often compare it to a ship.

Four bedrooms, all with built-in mahogany beds and dressers, line one side of a long hallway, which cantilevers over the great room. A series of porthole-like windows line the other side of the hallway.

Wright also believed that the American woman of the future would have little interest in cooking, Gosling says.

"He thought she was going to bring in a caterer or already prepared food." Like the bedrooms, kitchens in Wright's Usonian houses are compact and efficient.

From the center of Gosling's kitchen, she can reach any cabinet, the refrigerator, the stove, the pantry and the microwave.

"It's surprising the first time you see (the kitchen), because you're not used to it," Gosling says. "But when you start working with it, you see it can be very handy. Everything is all around you and you don't have to run from one place to another."

Scherubel acknowledges, however, that some buyers today might not appreciate Wright's designs.

"Frank Lloyd Wright houses are beautiful and have features people like," he says. "But they're unique houses that are unique to the Frank Lloyd Wright way of living - and that may not appeal to everyone. The trend today is toward really large homes with really large bedrooms and kitchens. It's difficult to interest those types of people in a Frank Lloyd Wright house."

Wright fans, however, view his buildings as valuable pieces of art, Scherubel says.

"Our efforts are to look at his collected works of architecture around the country as you would any other artist's work," he says. "You wouldn't burn up an old Monet just because you didn't like it. We're trying to preserve all of those works just as you would paintings of a famous painter or the sculpture of a famous sculptor."

As enthusiastic Wright fans, the Goslings undertook a number of major, structural renovations to preserve their "masterpiece" for the future as well as make it more comfortable for modern living.

The first project in the early 1990s was closing in the carport to create a new bedroom and connect the main part of the house with a guest wing that a Wright protege had designed for the Boulters in the late 1950s.

Later, they repaired the foundation, which had cracked because of slippage on the hill where the house is located.

"It's now solid," Gosling emphasizes. The couple also made major repairs on the home's flat roof, a Wright design feature that has led to water problems in many of his houses. "We haven't had a drip ever since," Gosling says.

Shortly before David's death, the Goslings signed an easement agreement with the Cincinnati Preservation Association.

That agreement gives the association authority to review any design changes on the exterior of the house to make sure they are in keeping with the original character of the building, Cain says.

"In that way, David and Miriam have put some insurance on their efforts to restore the house," Cain says. "They've insured that the house will be treated in a like manner over time."



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