By Anthony Paletta
Frank Lloyd Wright made no secret of his distaste for cities. “A mind parasite is here, a whirling dervish in a whirling vortex,” he wrote in The city that disappears, his 1932 treatise on the American metropolis. His large unbuilt project, Broadacre City, sought to dissolve the city, integrating agriculture into conventional urban spaces.
And yet Wright only designed a handful of houses that could be accurately described as farmhouses. One is in California’s fertile Central Valley, sandwiched between the Coast Ranges mountains and the Sierra Nevada. Designed for Harriet and Randall “Buck” Fawcett in 1955, it was one of Wright’s last residential commissions and was not completed until 1961, two years after his death. The property remains in very good condition, partly thanks to the quality of its design and construction and partly to a recent overhaul by its current owners, Carrie and Ken Cox, who purchased it from the Fawcetts in 2012.
A crucial selling point for the Coxes was the home’s agrarian setting, which remains virtually the same as it was in 1961, with no high-rise buildings or power lines to spoil the view. The land around the property is still used as a working farm. “We don’t do the work, but we discover the beauty,” says Carrie, explaining how the seven-bedroom home, which is currently on the market for $4.25 million, was designed to maximize those views: the plan Wright’s U-shape features two wings, an almost entirely facade with windows on one side. The other wing is more private, consisting largely of concrete block walls and clerestory windows.
“The context of the house is pretty much intact,” says Carrie. “It’s amazing to find a house of this age that is original both in itself and in the environment in which it resides.” The couple discovered the property after attending a talk about Wright’s work at his Fallingwater home in Bear Run, Pennsylvania, where they later got into the habit of browsing avidly through the For Sale section of the Wright Conservancy website. . “He [the house] needed a lot of restoration but it hadn’t been hacked or modified. That’s what allowed us to close the deal.
The Cox’s approach draws a fine line between respecting the integrity of the original designs and avoiding living in a home with Eisenhower-era appliances. The original drawings and plans were a help, as was the expert advice of Arthur Dyson, architect and Wright apprentice (as well as input from Wright’s grandson, Eric Lloyd Wright).
Dyson encouraged the couple not to feel pressured to preserve every inch of the property. He told the Coxes that one of his first jobs as an apprentice—under Wright—was to remove and replace old lighting at Wright’s Arizona studio and home. The Coxes also met architect Cornelia Brierly, who worked with Wright on the home’s interior design. Carrie says Brierly joked, “Why would you want all that old stuff?”
In some ways, the Cox’s restoration can be seen as closer to Frank Lloyd Wright’s original vision than the structure built in 1961. Early plans included a fireplace in the master bedroom which was never built. therefore had them built. It was no simple task – the chimney is indeed corbelled, with bricks protruding from each other. It took two tries to get it right. They also added a forecourt which Wright had designed but which was also never built.
The interior of the property is defined by the use of diagonals, which was an eye-opener for Carrie. “We all live in right-angled houses, there are corners around us everywhere – you don’t even notice them – but once you spend time in a house that doesn’t have hard-angled corners, it just changes the sense of the house.It creates this incredible sense of peace and flow throughout the house.
Carrie praises the master bedroom. “Wright is famous for those seamless corner windows. You feel like you’re outside; it’s as close to camping as you can come and still be inside.”
Having decided to sell, the Coxes think they are leaving the house in the best condition for its next steward. “He captured our hearts and we wanted to bring him back to life,” says Carrie. “We hope we have restored the house to its original beauty.”
Photography: Crosby Doe Associates