Saturday, June 01, 2002

Designer follows Wright's lead

Interiors pro embellishes Homearama showpiece - a descendant of famous architect's work

By Joy Kraft,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Kurt Bietenduvel stands in the master bath of the Homearama house in South Lebanon. The tub is set on a cypress platform beneath four of his signature windows.
(Gary Landers photos)
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        Dictating wall color to an interior designer normally would be asking for trouble.

        Limiting those colors to two for an entire house, outlawing wallpaper and window treatments — then building in furniture so it can't be moved — would send many a designer into a decorating depression.

        Not Kurt Bietenduvel of Valerie Makstell Interiors, downtown, a top Homearama designer for two years whose work has appeared in House Beautiful magazine.

        His spirit soared and his heart skipped a beat or two at the prospect of working on a home that carried the magic of Frank Lloyd Wright, who has been called the “greatest American architect of all time,” by the American Institute of Architects.

 Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright
        The home, “Nature's View,” is the Eagle Custom Home's 2002 Homearama entry and designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation of Madison, Wis., and its subsidiary, Taliesin Architects, the first project of its kind in the country. Coincidentally, Homearama opens next Saturday — June 8 — the 135th anniversary of Wright's birth.

        Architect Anthony Puttnam was once an apprentice to Wright, the master of organic design who is famous for the snail-like Guggenheim Museum in New York, earth-hugging “Prairie” houses and the cascades and cantilevers of Fallingwater in Bear Run, Pa. Mr. Puttnam oversaw the Homearama project from drawing board to landscaping, just as Wright made a practice of doing.

        Despite the absence of many traditional design vehicles, such as window treatments (covering windows interferes with Wright and his disciples' belief in incorporating the house into its environment) “there are a lot of design elements in this home,” says Mr. Bietenduvel, “from the graduated-stain paneling in the office and the contemporary built-ins in the master bedroom to the strong, bold fabrics selected for the built-in living room sofa.”

        The designer knew what he was getting into last August when word went out that a Wright Foundation house was being considered for Homearama, which will run through June 23 at Vista Pointe at River's Bend in South Lebanon.

        Acquainted with Wright's design theories, Mr. Bietenduvel had incorporated many of them in a house he did for Eagle Custom Homes in Somerset. Ky. “It reminded me of Wright” — open spaces, rooms as gathering spaces that blend into each other rather than small, personal spaces, he says.

[photo] The design for #147;Nature's View”
(Architect's rendering)
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        The Homearama entry “was a huge collaborative design team effort,” the designer says, down to the finishing work. (One of the craftsmen working on the office woodwork the day we toured cited Wright's Oak Park, Ill., home as having a treatment similar to the graduated staining on the panels.)

        “The style and theory of Frank Lloyd Wright gives you the basis and guidelines to start the design process — organic materials, the feel of the home being at-one with the environment (in this case a hillside overlooking an expansive valley) and the decision of using cypress in the built-ins and trim is prevalent,” says Mr. Bietenduvel.

        The many windows, on an orderly plane throughout the home, and two-part thick-and-thin cypress stripping along the walls provide continuity and smooth passage from room to room.

        No window treatments “was very hard for me, but it made me focus on other things,” Mr. Bietenduvel says.

        Similarly, the limit on paint colors wasn't all that confining, “though I'm usually not fond of all the walls — and ceilings being the same color,” he says.

        After all, the most common question of Homearama visitors, the designer says, is the name of the color of the wall paint — “the most inexpensive way to change the dynamic and feel of a room.

[photo] Wall paneling exhibits a graduated staining, darker near the floors.
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        “But I can see why (the architect) wanted to keep everything uniform — to let the cypress trim, angling of the walls and natural substance of the floors and counter tops in wood, tile, stone and granite, be a point of interest.

        “The color, like a manila envelope, sets off everything else. Wright wanted walls to be more of a canvas, not a distraction. He didn't want the essence of the outdoors to be clouded by a lot of man-made color.

        “That's why windows are so important. Their abundance allows the exterior organic color to become the natural backdrop.”

        But why the manila envelope color?

        “Studies have been done on children and drawing,” Mr. Bietenduvel says. “Bright white was found to be unsettling for children to start drawing on. Manila color was much more of a calmed palette to allow them to focus.” That's the theory behind the (color of) paper used in grade school, he says.

   Builder: Eagle Custom Homes Inc. of Loveland
   Architect: Anthony Puttnam of Taliesin Architects, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation of Madison, Wis.
   Interior design: Kurt Bietenduvel, Valerie Makstell Interiors, downtown.
   Size: 6,850 square feet — three bedrooms, three full baths, three half baths.
   Price: $1.25 million.
   Why here? Cincinnati was chosen for this building project because it's the oldest consecutively operating Homearama and one of the largest in the country. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and Taliesin Architects met with six custom home-building companies before chosing Eagle. “The strength of the Home Builders Association of Cincinnati gave us confidence,” says the Wright foundation's H. Nicholas Muller III. “In our relationship with Eagle, we make it clear they are our builder of choice in this region.”
   What: 41st annual Homearama, 11 newly built, furnished and landscaped homes, priced $750,000 to nearly $2 million.
   When: Next Saturday-June 23. Hours: 4-11 p.m. Monday-Friday and noon-11 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
   Where: Vista Pointe at River's Bend, South Lebanon. From I-71, take exit 28. Go south on Ohio 48. Turn left on Vista Ridge Drive. Free on-site parking.
   Tickets: $8 adults, free for ages 12 and under.
   Information: 851-6300;
        The effort Mr. Bietenduvel didn't have to put into window treatments and other design geegaws went into the master bathroom, bigger than most bedrooms — and many living rooms.

        He submitted his idea of “mixing fire and water” to Eagle Custom Homes, owned by Doug Feagles, who sent it to Taliesin and “was happy to see it come back as part of the blueprint,” he says.

        A rectangular Kohler soaking tub, deeper than most bathtubs, is set in a stepped cypress platform under four signature windows facing the valley. A few feet away is a fireplace and a floor-to-ceiling polished travertine tiled double shower with marble chip trim.

        Water is the star here — and the windows' valley view. It seems Wright would approve, considering the platform waterfalls at Fallingwater in Pennsylvania.

        Water for the tub flows from the ceiling, 6 feet above, in a cylindrical liquid column.

        “All the air is taken out of the water,” Mr. Bietenduvel says, giving it a sculptural look as it falls.

        The water flows into the tub, then up over the sides where it goes through a heating and recirculating system.

        Though much of the home's furniture is built-in, Mr. Bietenduvel was able to flex his color muscles in fabric and comfort choices.

        “I don't think Mr. Wright wanted anybody to be uncomfortable on pew-like furniture,” he says. “We used lots of pillows.”

        “The way comfort has moved into furniture design today, Frank Lloyd Wright would be right on the bandwagon of making things comfortable.”

        Fabrics and textures were chosen to complement, not overpower. And those expecting all Arts and Crafts or mission-style furnishings and accents may be disappointed, but only until they see the successful mixture with contemporary additions.

        A mural, “a contemporary forest scene” by Karen Kratzmiller of Broad Spectrum is prominent in the living room, which is dominated by a flat fieldstone hearth. Framed works by Jack Earley of Cincinnati hang throughout the house.

        It's also clear from the amenities, including a 60-inch plasma screen TV, whole house surround sound, synthetic decking material and gas fireplace, that incorporating modern technology and lifestyles into Wright's pre-1950 design tenets wasn't much of a stretch for the architect and builders.

        “That's my excitement, incorporating modern technologies into his designs,” says Mr. Bietenduvel. “And it's a tribute to the genius of the architect.

        “If we were using strictly Arts and Crafts furniture, a big-screen TV might look funny. But we're not. We're using clean-line contemporary furniture in combination with built-ins with arts and crafts flavoring.

        “He was definitely a man before his time, a visionary. His design theories led him from the 19th century to today. That they are still loved is proof of his success.

        “I wanted to take his vision and apply his theories in the Year 2002 and on.”


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