Sunday, October 10, 2004

Spend the night in a Wright

By Becky Linhardt
Enquirer contributor

The restorationThe Louis Penfield House: 12 Public Square, Suite 150, Willoughby, OH 44094. Location is east of Cleveland, off Interstate 90. Driving time from Cincinnati: about 41/2 hours.

Rate: $275 per night, two night minimum, sleeps up to five/no pets. Damage deposit of $100 required in advance; returned/credited promptly.

Information: (440) 942-9996; Louis Penfield commissioned the house in the early 1950s. An art teacher at Mayfield High School, he had attended Ohio State University with Eugene Masselick, who became a personal secretary for Frank Lloyd Wright.

"The large doors to the patio were never operational, most of the Wright-designed furniture was not constructed," says Donna Penfield, wife of Paul Penfield, Louis' son. "Louis ran out of money.

"After Paul inherited the house, we embarked on a restoration that was much more. We took the plan as Wright had designed it and brought it to completion."

They brought in John Origlio as consulting architect. The basic Usonian pieces were always there: concrete floors at ground level, demarcated modular elements, expansive glass windows in the open public living space dominated by a concrete block fireplace at the heart of the house.

When I was a kid, I thought that everyone lived the way our family did," said Paul Penfield. "It was our house, our home as I was growing up."

But it was not the typical suburban tract house of the 1950s. The Penfield home in Willoughby Hills, near Cleveland, was a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Usonian-style house set on 30 acres of land along the Chagrin River.

Fans of Wright or those look-ing for a unique getaway can rent the restored Louis Penfield House. The sculptural quality of Wright's designs and his genius become more apparent when you stay there. Be prepared, however, to adjust to the less-than-perfect function of the home's features.

Accommodations on the second floor are modest. Two small rooms have a double beds; a smaller room holds a twin bed and a desk. There is only one bathroom upstairs and a half-bath down. Family or friends will be in close quarters. Don't bring a big suitcase.

The stairs are beautifully polished wood, open, but narrow - maybe 25 inches at the widest. The turn at the top is tight.

But what a grand public space on the first floor. There were four in our party and we spent most of our time lounging in the expansive living area, enjoying its 12 foot ceilings and cozy hearth off a spacious galley kitchen.

Having the house to ourselves, we sat in almost every seat to see which was most comfortable or had the best view. Each had a different perspective. From the swivel chairs by the hearth, the nearby woods seemed to be part of the living space. From the bench opposite the window wall, a vista of trees and meadow stretched before us.

We tried various combinations of lighting - most very dramatic - but never found one good for reading at night. During the day, the living space is flooded with natural light coming through the east wall's window, and even from the high, tree-shaded windows on the west side.

We found plenty of books on Frank Lloyd Wright in the built-in bookcases. There were a few Wright-related video tapes, including the Ken Burns set on Wright, and a small TV, VCR, CD player and CDs.

We wish we had brought food for cooking. The kitchen is open and inviting - well stocked, too, with utensils, cookware, china and glassware. It would have been fun to work together in the kitchen while maintaining conversations with those at the hearth or dining table or in the living room.

I've been told that the Penfield House is especially inviting on the many occasions when snow whitens northeastern Ohio. I can imagine being there with friends - snow covering the gentle roll of the hill down to the river, fire blazing in the fireplace and a big pot of homemade soup simmering on the stove.

We've already started talking about a return visit this winter.

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