WRIGHT of passage

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 21, 2007 - 11:55 AM

For Virginia Lovness, saying goodbye to the home she and her late husband built by hand will be bittersweet, but she's ready to pass on the legacy of its famous architect: Frank Lloyd Wright.

It was 1954 and Virginia Lovness was nervously waiting to meet architect Frank Lloyd Wright to show him her designs for a space she wanted to convert into her studio on White Bear Lake.

After a few minutes, Virginia was summoned to his bedroom at Taliesin, his estate in Spring Green, Wis. "I was so afraid," she said. "Why was I bothering this great man?"

Wright, then in his 80s, was unshaven and disheveled. He graciously looked at her design and started making so many changes that there was little left of her original plan.

"So Mr. Wright said 'We'll have to design a studio for you,'" said Virginia.

Wright kept his word -- the contract was a gentleman's handshake -- and one of the greatest American architects of the 20th century drew up a plan for an earthy wood-and-stone dwelling that included floor-to-ceiling windows, a great room, children's wing and master suite.

Virginia, and her late husband Donald, didn't have money to hire a builder. They bought 20 acres west of Stillwater and with Wright's blessing, built the 1,800-square-foot home stone-by-stone over two years with little help from others.

Today the 1955 home, which they called the studio, and a Wright-designed cottage they built in 1972 near the shore of Woodpile Lake are for sale for $3.75 million. The price includes the Wright-designed furnishings hand-crafted by master woodworker Donald and a bonus -- Wright's original designs for three other cottages.

"I'm 82 and can't do it alone," said Virginia. Donald died in 2001 from a heart attack and her dream is for the new owner to eventually build those structures. "Let the next person have the fun we had doing it."

But with the "fun" came plenty of hard labor. The couple hauled more than 100 tons of Wisconsin rock in wheelbarrows and mixed cement with a box and hoe. They hand-split stone to construct the massive fireplace, the heart of a Wright home. Donald installed the electrical, plumbing and in-floor radiant heat, a Wright invention. "We were so enthusiastic," she said. "Mr Wright called us his 'do-it-yourself couple.'"

At the time, Donald worked as a 3M chemical engineer and they were raising two toddler daughters in a trailer with no running water. Sometimes at the end of the day, Virginia was so tired and sore "I didn't think I could get up and make dinner," she said.

Although Wright, who died in 1959, never visited the Lovness home due to illness, he was there in spirit. The couple often traveled to Taliesin, Wright's fabled architecture and arts studio, to ask questions and show him snapshots of their ambitious work-in-progress.

One time, Virginia phoned him for a solution for the too-dark dining room. "He was in the middle of a dinner party," she said. "But he sent over the design for a chandelier." That oak chandelier, crafted by Donald, is a handsome fixture Wright aficionados would savor.

Before long, the Lovnesses would be the guests at the Wrights' dinner parties, staying at Taliesin so often that the Wrights built and named a suite for them.

Over his 70-year career, Wright earned the reputation of being a tyrant, but Virginia saw another side. "Mr. Wright was so funny and charming," she said. When the Lovnesses told Wright the final cost of the studio was about $18,000, "he laughed and laughed. He had never come in under budget before," Virginia said.

Priced today at $3.75 million, the Lovness estate is a one-of-a-kind property that's been on the market for a year and a half and needs international exposure to attract the right buyer, said current listing agent, Kimberly Falker, sales associate for Sky Sotheby's International Realty.

Since listing the house in May, Falker said that she's received inquires from both coasts and even architects from France.

"The buyer could be someone of prominence who wants a private getaway," said Falker. "And who appreciates art and a Frank Lloyd Wright original rather than focusing on price per square foot."

A classic design

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    Wednesday November 21, 2007

    The exterior of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Lovness Studio House, built by Virginia and Don Lovness (by their own hands) in 1955 near Stillwater.

  • Lovness Studio House

    Wednesday November 21, 2007

    The interior of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Lovness Studio House, built by Virginia and Don Lovness (by their own hands) in 1955 near Stillwater.

  • Lovness Cottage House interior

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    The interior of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Lovness Cottage House, built by Virginia and Don Lovness (by their own hands) in the 1970s near Stillwater.

  • Lovness Cottage house

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    An exterior of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Lovness Cottage House, built by Virginia and Don Lovness (by their own hands) in the 1970s near Stillwater.

  • This 800-square-foot stone cottage, built from a Frank Lloyd Wright blueprint, is for sale.

  • HOUSE FACTS The $3.75 million price tag includes blueprints for three other cottages, all the Wright-designed oak furnishings and 20 acres on Woodpile Lake west of Stillwater. Studio (main home): Built in 1955; 1,875-square feet on one level includes galley kitchen, great room, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a stone fireplace and in-floor heat. Cottage: Built in 1972; 800-square feet includes a kitchen, great room, one bedroom, one bathroom and a stone fireplace. Whimsical touch: A narrow staircase in the bathroom leads to a reading loft.
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