At Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio near Spring Green, Wis., an eager band of draftsmen once gathered to work alongside the much-revered architect.
One of those apprentices, known then as “the pencil in Wright’s hand,” was a young architect from Minnesota named John Howe.
Howe, an original member of the Taliesin Fellowship Associated Architects, later built a cottage across a wide valley from Taliesin. As the story goes, one day in the late 1950s, a young couple from the Twin Cities saw a picture of that cottage and wrote to Howe, asking him to design a house for them and their two young boys on a wooded hillside overlooking Lake Minnetonka in Orono.
Howe delivered with a sprawling, 3,620-square-foot Prairie-style house, known as Wintertree, that’s now on the market for $2.295 million. (Click here for details and photos.)
“The views are breathtaking,” said listing agent Val Fazendin, Roger Fazendin Realtors. “When you walk in, it’s just amazing. You can see the lake from just about every single window, and rolling hills are all around you.”
In an original letter that Howe wrote to his clients, George and Norma Johnson, he described his approach to siting and designing the house.
“I located the house at the top of the wooded slope so that from every room the inhabitants could enjoy views of the lake. The plan is laid out on a grid, or unit system, of equilateral triangles, measuring 5 feet, 4 inches on each side. This produces a greater flow of space and flexibility in the plan than could be obtained with conventional 90-degree angles and the usual box-shaped rooms they produce.”
In that letter, Howe says that because the Johnsons had two small boys and Norma wanted to make housekeeping as simple as possible, he located the cooking, laundry, playroom and family dining room adjacent to one another. All of the rooms in the house, with the exception of the living room, are on one level. The 1½-story living room is a step down from the rest and has walls of glass facing North Arm Bay. There’s also a study with panoramic views of the lake.
The original specifications called for building the house with stone, but the Johnsons later changed course and used the same red brick that Wright used on the Johnson Wax headquarters building in Racine, Wis.
The house has all the hallmarks of the Prairie School style so associated with Wright, including built-in bench seats, a massive stone fireplace that seems to anchor the house to its site and a Kasota limestone patio that seamlessly extends the living space outside.
The master suite has a pitched ceiling, walls of glass, stone floors and its own patio. At the opposite end of the house are three other bedrooms, each with a lake view. There’s also a guesthouse with bedroom and bathroom.
Shortly after the current owners, Lois and John Rogers, bought the house in 1987, they did a major overhaul, replacing the windows, roof and mechanical systems. They also turned the carport into a garage and connected a guesthouse to the main house.
“John Howe had already drawn the plans for this when we went to see him,” said John Rogers. “Mr. Howe was most pleased.”
The Rogerses no longer live in Minnesota full-time, so it’s time to give another family a chance to experience the home’s unique layout and angles.
“When we first moved into Wintertree, I was so affected by the triangle motif and lack of right angles that I experienced a kind of opposing feeling to ‘serenity,’ a knowledge that one could never be bored in this place, a stimulation of the senses in a way,” said Lois Rogers. “And I’ve rarely experienced anything more wonderful than the living-room view of a summer squall or winter blizzard coming across the lake.”
Val Fazendin and Carol Alber of Roger Fazendin Realtors have the listing. They’re at 612-210-5522 or 952-239-5995. Or go to www.fazhomes.com.