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“Anyone over six feet tall is a weed”
Renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright was known to fit his designs to the scale of his own stature (whether consciously or unconsciously); but when art professor Louis Penfield approached Wright to design a residence for himself and his family in 1953, it became apparent that Penfield’s 6’8″ frame would require a different approach.
As the story goes, when asked by Penfield if he could design a house for a person so tall, Wright replied:
“Yes, but we’ll have to design a machine to tip you sideways first.”
Still, the relationship between the Penfields and Wright became incredibly important- not only did he design their home in Willoughby Hills, Ohio; he also was in the process of designing them a second home on the same 30 acres overlooking the Chagrin River when he died in 1959- the plans were still on the drawing board, and mailed to the Penfields soon after his funeral.
The collection of Wright’s residences are known as the “Usonians”, and most often are examples of his organic approach to architecture, preference for natural materials, and his commitment to creating site-specific structures. They often feature small entryways and narrow passages- but since the house was originally made for a man who stood over six feet tall, the scale of the Louis Penfield House is slightly different. It has higher ceilings than most of Wright’s other homes, and features slender windows that mirror Penfield’s figure. Other architectural features include a floor-to-ceiling glass walled living room and a floating staircase.
The 1800 square foot home includes 3 bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms. There is radiant-floor heating fed by one of 2 natural gas wells on the property. The house itself has no heating costs- a miracle, considering the fact that Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes, while visually stunning, often were an engineer’s/builder’s nightmare. The 30 acre property is part of the American Tree Farm System, and the cherry and black walnut wood used in the interior restoration were harvested from the local forest.
The Penfield Property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, and has also been featured on the covers of both This Old House and Ohio magazines.Architecture enthusiasts can actually rent out the residence for a night or weekend, and Lonely Planet designated it as the #1 Romantic Getaway in America.
The home is actually for sale, but requires a large commitment: as $2.1 million , the entire sale includes the total 30 acre property (with 600 feet of river frontage), a duplex rental farmhouse (not Wrightian) and another residential cottage. The complicated part is that it also comes with the original plans and site for Frank Lloyd Wright’s final design, Riverrock. Any potential buyer needs to have the interest and wherewithal to preserve this piece of architectural history.
Photos courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Louis Penfield House