The Wright Stuff by Ann Johnson

Whether you call it the Wright House or the Wright Place, there is no question it has the Wright stuff.

Located on 66 secluded, sage-brush-studded acres tucked in Brown’s Canyon, this Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home offers panoramic views of Park City’s ski runs that are only minutes away.

Bob and Denna Wright built the home two years ago with plans they purchased from Taliesin Architects in Scottsdale, Arizona, which hold the rights to Frank-Lloyd- Wright blueprints. A great-nephew and fan of the famed architect whose career spanned 70 years, Wright said it had been a dream of his to one day build a Frank Lloyd Wright house. "It’s something that we thought about for a long time before we decided to do it."

The house embraces the trademark architectural elements by which Frank Lloyd Wright established his reputation. There is the low-pitched roof, the deep overhangs, and long rows of casement windows emphasizing the horizontal theme. The indoors opens to the outdoors through the many windows, exhibiting Wright’s lifelong fascination with site, structure and landscape character.

While the house was not designed for this particular location, above a quiet grove of aspen frequented by deer and elk and an occasional coyote, it fits the site well. Indeed, the house was designed in 1956, near the end of Wright's career (he died in 1959), for a Michigan couple, but was never built. Bob and Denna Wright poured over numerous plans at Taliesin before deciding on this blueprint. They purchased the plans, recognizing the good fit with the property they had owned for 20 years.

But the project was not easy.

"We submitted the plans to the county for approval, and they wanted a structural engineer's stamp. An engineer took one look at the plans and said 'no way.' It would not meet the snow load requirements," Wright said.

Taliesin was hired to bring the home into conformity with Summit County building codes, which require that structures be capable of supporting up to 180 pounds of snow per square foot. The house, with its massive overhangs, had not been designed to support that kind of weight. To meet code, the frame was made of steel, and then cloaked in wood to support the roof, also reinforced with steel beams.

To further complicate construction, the cost of getting electricity and telephone lines to the site was prohibitive. So Wright, an electrical engineer by profession, conceived of a plan to make the residence self-sufficient. He dug a well, installed a septic tank, and powered the property with electricity from four solar panels, a diesel generator and a backup propane generator. The Wrights keep in touch with the world via cell phone.

"We are totally off the grid. We aren't connected to anybody."
The home has radiant heating in its red cement floors. The tongue and groove poplar, used throughout the house's interior and exterior, was milled on site.

The walls are made of foam block insulation that were assembled like Legos™ and then filled with cement.
Gunnite finished the walls in a deep, rough gray. The final touches were pebbles collected at the building site that the Wrights flung into the gunnite to give the walls added texture and warmth, as was called for in the plans.

But the house, while certainly livable, is not yet complete. The plans call for a 16-foot "Sanctum," or meditation room, for which Wright has poured the foundation. He has covered it over, however, because he has not had the time to complete it. A garage and a shop are also included in the plans, but have not been built.

And now the Wrights, on the verge of retirement, have decided to sell. "It's like having one of your children moving out. On the one hand, it's hard to see them go, and on the other, you're glad to see them go." The couple plans to become VISTA volunteers. "We want to give back to people who are needy - not just slip into the retirement mode."

What Bob Wright will miss most about the house is "the living room and the way the light streams in in the morning. It makes beautiful patterns on the walls. Also, the sunsets are just gorgeous. We have such a beautiful view from the living room."
Bob Wright cautions against any buyer modifying the house. "I would be very unhappy. We would like to maintain the integrity of the Wright design."

No buyer in their right mind, or rather Wright mind, would change a thing.

Reprinted with permission from the author: Ann Johnson has worked as a reporter in Los Angeles and Phoenix. She is now a free-lance journalist living in the Park City area, a frequent contributor to Park City magazine and producer of KPCW’s Mountain Money.

Since this story was written…

  • The house has been connected to the power grid. The current owners are full participants in the Rocky Mountain Power Blue Sky program and all electricity comes from a wind farm in Wyoming. The original system is now used as back up.
  • The house has wireless internet access and can use Voip technology for phone service.
  • The Sanctum was completed in 2002, is nestled in the aspen grove, and is truly a sanctuary.
  • We lost Bob Wright in January of 2008 but his spirit lives on in every thing and heart he touched.

 

“Every great architect is - necessarily - a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.” Frank Lloyd Wright
Website by Tom Davis Design | Photography by TJ Liese