Growing Up Wright

By Lonnie Lovness. (River Place Media, 288 pages, $45.)

In the summer of 1955, a starry-eyed couple named Don and Virginia Lovness drove from White Bear Lake to Spring Green, Wis., to ask Frank Lloyd Wright how to expand their unfinished walkout home. His advice: Sell the "mess" and buy 10 acres to build new. Virginia said they couldn't afford one of his houses, but the 88-year-old Wright, taken with the petite young woman, pounded the table and said, "We'll do it! We'll build you a house for $10,000!"

And so the Lovnesses embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, combining their meager resources with an immeasurable amount of sweat equity (they couldn't afford a builder) to construct a classic Wright Usonian of 1,600 square feet, fashioned of Wisconsin limestone that they themselves chiseled and laid.

The do-it-yourself house, overlooking a small lake in the country west of Stillwater, is the focus of this handsome coffee table book that's loaded with personal photos and charmingly written by the couple's oldest daughter.

The book — "Growing Up Wright: Building a Dream by Hand With the World's Greatest Architect" — is also the story of that couple. He was a brilliant 3M chemist and jack-of-all-trades, she a Hamline-educated artist and graphic designer, and they forged a warm relationship with Wright, his wife and associates at Taliesin.

There are some intriguing sidebars, including the Lovnesses' friendship with Josef Stalin's daughter, who married a Wright protégé, and the difficulties involved in selling a Wright house — Max Weinberg, Bruce Springsteen's drummer, wanted to buy it but only if he could move it to New Jersey, and the deal fell through.

A dozen Wright-designed buildings stand in Minnesota today, including the Lovness home and a cottage they built later on the property, but likely none of them have the improbable back story that Lonnie Lovness tells here with such humor and devotion. This is the up-close-and-personal memoir that Wright fans, especially those in Minnesota, have been waiting for.