Channeling Frank Lloyd Wright -

Channeling Frank Lloyd Wright -

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Frank Lloyd Wright homes are my favorite in this country, I love the style, the way they blend in with their environments. In a perfect world I'll someday live in one if I can. I find the homes to be peaceful & realaxing. I can spend hours just reading about them, and enjoying the photography of them. Some day I want to visit my favorite Frank Lloyd Wright home "Falling Water". I really enjoyed this article. Take a read.

Channeling Frank Lloyd Wright
Inspired by his own home, author T.C. Boyle wrote a novel about the famed architect

Montecito, Calif.
'My first impressions? Of peace, of beauty abounding, of an old-world graciousness and elegance of line. And there was something more too: a deep-dwelling spiritual presence that seemed to emanate from the earth itself..."

That's the narrator's description of Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's famed home, in the latest novel by T.C. Boyle. The words also capture how Mr. Boyle felt when he first glimpsed his house: a sprawling "summer cottage" here, designed by Mr. Wright.

A Writer's Wright Retreat
View SlideshowBrad Swonetz for The Wall Street Journal

The 4,500-square-foot house sits atop a hill, surrounded by trees and bushes.
Perched like a pagoda on the hill, surrounded by trees and bushes, the 4,500-square-foot home is built as a cross, fireplace at the center. The front door is buried on the side, leading to an entryway with ceilings so low they barely accommodate Mr. Boyle's gangly 6-foot-3 frame.
A few steps inside and suddenly the ceiling soars, light pouring in through Mr. Wright's signature windows. Pieces by Gustav Stickley and other Wright-era antiques are scattered about the large living area. The feeling is cool and still, everything so clean and perfectly placed it feels like a museum that allows few visitors.

It was his home that inspired Mr. Boyle, author of "The Road to Wellville" and "Drop City," to pen "The Women," which chronicles the architect's notoriously tumultuous personal life. "I was constantly aware of the architect's ghost lingering in the design of this house, in which I am working," says Mr. Boyle. The book's release coincides with the completion of a meticulous renovation of the home back to its original state.

Exactly 100 years ago, Mr. Wright designed the home for George C. Stewart, a Scottish accountant. Soon after the design was completed Mr. Wright left his first wife, Kitty, and their six kids and ran off with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, the wife of a client and neighbor in Oak Park, Ill. It's the event that sets off "The Women," which chronicles Ms. Cheney's 1914 murder and a series of tumultuous relationships.

Written from the perspective of a fictional Japanese apprentice, "The Women" buries itself in the personalities of Mr. Wright's three mistresses. "You live inside a historical character to the point where they really become your fictional characters," Mr. Boyle says. "What did they think? What did they feel? You take the bare bones of what was there and add to it."

View Full Image Brad Swonetz for The Wall Street Journal

The vast living area has been restored to its original state and furnished with Wright-era antiques.

In contrast, Mr. Boyle, 60, added very little to his home in his 16-year restoration effort. Aside from changes that needed to be made (a foundation was added) and a couple of practical additions (bookshelves and a sound system), the home adheres to Mr. Wright's original plans. Mr. Boyle erased changes made by previous residents, scraping off paint and removing treatments from windows, which scholars say are notable for their unique tree patterns.
"That's the ethical thing to do -- to keep a house as it is designed. We don't feel we need to add marble bathtubs," says Mr. Boyle.

He's less successful controlling the outside of the home, an acre where everything is in constant flux. What was the original front lawn is overgrown with trees and bushes, through which Mr. Boyle has created paths lined with stones. A group of raccoons are particularly unmanageable, though he admires the home they created from a dead tree stump.

Houses for sale in Montecito range from a four-bedroom Mediterranean listed at $2.95 million to a nine-bedroom mansion on seven acres asking $32.5 million.

Like Mr. Wright, who designed lighting fixtures, furniture, and even clothing to be used in his houses, Mr. Boyle likes to be in control of his art. A self-described "nutball perfectionist," he says his writing is rarely edited. He also dislikes change, constantly moving furniture back to its original position when his wife Karen tries to rearrange. "I have more staying power than she does." he says.

Painter Pablo Campos says he has seen Mr. Boyle stuff his wife's belongings into closets and drawers. "He's like a blind person who has to keep it all steady so he can navigate without bumping into anything," Mr. Campos says.

View Full ImageBrad Swonetz for The Wall Street Journal

Author Boyle walks his property.

The house also reflects Mr. Boyle's desire to separate the private and public parts of his life. Visitors see three rooms: the family room in the middle with a giant roman-fired brick hearth (Mr. Boyle's 20 books on the mantle); a TV or reading room -- depending on whether there's a game Mr. Boyle wants to watch -- to the right, and at the far end a dining room. All the furniture was selected by Karen, who found the home shortly after falling in love with the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Frank Lloyd Wright room.

Almost hidden is the stairway behind the fireplace that leads upstairs to Mr. Boyle's office and the bedrooms. He shows the private areas only with reluctance; the bedrooms are off-limits. "He is a gracious host. But he runs a tight ship," says producer Mitchell Burgess, who, with his wife, producer Robin Green (both known for HBO's "The Sopranos" series), visits often. Friends for three decades, the couple have rarely gone upstairs.

Just back from a weeklong book tour in Germany, Mr. Boyle fussed over three potted cycads in the dining room, muttering that he would have to replace them because they'd been overwatered in his absence. How often did he eat in the dining room? Only when there were guests, he said. How often was that? "As little as I can manage," he said dryly.

Mr. Boyle says he fully intends to live in the house for the rest of his life, pointing out to friends the nearby cemetery where he will be buried. Up next: a book that takes place in the Channel Islands, which he views from a nearby beach.

Write to Nancy Keates at


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