Tchotchke Challenged

TchotchkesTchotchkes.  Knick-knacks.  Bric-a-brac. Objet d’art.  Call ‘em what you will, but we ain’t got ‘em!

Now, before you say you’ve toured the Goetsch-Winckler and saw a few items on the shelves, know that anything you saw was hastily placed there solely to make the home appear lived-in, albeit by people with extraordinarily strange taste!

The French designer Andrée Putman, famous for black and white living spaces, said that people (through their personal possessions) will provide the color in a room. In a Usonian home, this theory should extend to the items usually defined as “home decor”.  Any item that occupies space must be both functional and meaningful to the homeowner.

Frank Lloyd Wright certainly agreed with the concept in Japanese architecture that quality building materials are beautiful in their own right.  The Goetsch-Winckler is breathtakingly gorgeous when vacant.  It does not need to be “decorated”.  A Japanese home also features a tokonoma, a low shelf where a few important pieces are displayed and changed with the seasons.  This idea translates perfectly to the Usonian home, and can be assigned to ONE of the built in shelves.  But what about all the others?

The many open bookshelves, designed by Mr. Wright, are obviously part of the storage plan for the home and in 1940 were meant to hold…..books!  And so begins the dilemma.

Who buys books anymore?  Not me.  If it’s digitized and can therefore be enlarged, readily accessed on my laptop, and not collect dust, I’m in!  Same goes for photos, another bookshelf staple.  So that leaves “stuff”.  Functional items, collectibles, art pieces, whatever…

The plan begins with placing the functional items in decorative containers to hide their homeliness.  “You paid HOW MUCH for a fancy cardboard box to hold office supplies?”

As for collectibles, my collection of hand-thrown pottery (that my husband thinks has not been thrown far enough) is kept in my California house, leaving only the Michigan State  Spartans spirit items surrounding his desk to fill this category.  Since MSU is both his alma mater and employer, and our reason for owning this home in Spartan country, anything with a “Go Green!” theme, however kitschy, is welcome here.  Thus explaining  the plastic Spartan Gnome standing guard over the FLW Tiffany vase!

And so we come around to art – an obvious choice in a home built for artists. As we travel through Michigan and the Midwest, discovering craft and sculpture pieces by local artists, the shelves will slowly fill.

In the meantime, we invite our guests to assume the lotus position on the daybed, lean back into the Fiesta colored pillows, and spend a moment of Zen contemplating the emptiness contained in our collection of home center flower pots!

YOUsonian Furniture

IMG_0750

Frank Lloyd Wright designed some Usonian furniture specifically for the Goetsch-Winckler house.  In addition to the built-in desk, sofa and bookshelves, there are end tables, low stools, dining chairs and dining table sections that came with the house.  The house plans show wooden beds as well, but the original owners took those when they moved.

It is interesting how little else is needed to furnish the home.  We added a bed, a grand piano, rolling desk chair, some comfortable chairs by the fireplace, and a snack table expertly constructed by our neighbor’s woodworker father that is designed to look like the low stools.  But one space remained an empty canvas.

No matter what other owners have arranged, the Studio wall perpendicular to the entrance doors does not feel like a place to sit.  It is an area to pass through on the way to the various activity centers of the open living space, and the perfect spot for a storage/display piece. (Yes, a major art piece would also be appropriate once the thermostat that protrudes like a giant brass clown nose smack in the middle of the wall is dealt with.)

Unsure of what we might store or display in this space, and not finding any retail offerings that spoke to us, we decided, in a moment of temporary insanity, to construct an interim piece.  As the photo discloses, we have no, I repeat NO woodworking skills!  But in the spirit of Usonian do-it-yourself, this did not stop us from  building our own YOUsonian credenza.

Our brick and board bookshelf utilizes bricks salvaged from a deconstructed outdoor pathway, one 4’x8’ sheet of plywood cut to order by the home center, and molding cut by us (measure twice, cut once, swear repeatedly).  Including wood stain, we spent about $40.  (Yeah, I know, hard to believe it’s worth that much!)

Our intention was to replicate the height, trim and color of the built-in desk and dining table, which we did.  We realize that our creation is to a fine woodworker as an out of tune kazoo band is to a classical musician, but it is allowing us to discover what type of custom piece we will need for the space.

The Norm Abrams of the world can rest assured that WE woodworkers have no intention of building any more YOUsonian furniture, but perhaps some of YOU fine woodworkers have ideas for an 8’ wide and exactly 27.5” tall open and/or closed storage piece that retains the details of the Goetsch-Winckler’s original furniture.  If so, please share your ideas in the comments.

Ghosts of the Goetsch-Winckler

IMG_0208BOO!  No, it’s not haunted. Or at least I don’t think it is, and I’m one of those people who is sensitive to the energy of certain places.  But there are ghosts.

When we traveled to Michigan to take our first look at this potential second home, I was ready for an overwhelming amount of creepy historic house energy to come oozing out of the redwood plank panelling and nix the whole idea. Who cared if Frank Lloyd Wright designed it? I was ready to encounter a dank and stale environment.  I was wrong.

As much as I wanted to hate this old house on my first visit, I could not.  As I walked from room to room, the autumn sunlight streamed through the windows, warming each cozy  space.  I stood still and silent and just felt the restorative quality of of this simple and yet infinitely grand shelter.  And like so many others before me, I was home.

Over the years I’ve encountered the “ghosts” of former inhabitants of the Goetsch-Winckler throughout the house.  Let’s start with the front door.  Where is it?  Is it the set of doors with the deadbolt?  The set under the overhead light?  When Frank Lloyd Wright came to visit, did he enter and walk smack into the hall closet?  Or did Alma Goetsch and Katherine Winckler never lock their doors at all, and just enter through any set that was convenient?

Speaking of locks, what’s up with the strange square of wood in the large bedroom door? Deadbolt?  Repair of a kicked in door?  Oh, the drama!  And I’d love to attribute this door’s tendency to slam when the windows are open to an other-worldly presence, but I’m pretty sure it’s really just the wind.

In the small bedroom there’s a hole cut in the back of the built in bookshelf allowing access to a wall cabinet in the gallery.  Phone wires? Electrical cords? Or someone with something secret to stash?  Will we ever know?

And although many architects and contractors would encourage me to refinish the cabinets and closet doors, I choose to leave them as they are.  The scratches near the door pulls remind me of the many others who have called this little house home.

In the bathroom, “ghost marks” on the wall hint where a mirror or medicine cabinet might have been but leave little information as to the original design.  How many people, even FLW himself, have stood at that sink and stared into the same mirror as I do, wondering if they really look as ghoulish as the reflection peering back at them in that ghastly overhead lighting?  Forget haunted, I scare myself daily!

Back to Frank Lloyd Wright, it’s been said that his “presence” haunts all Wright homeowners in their restoration decisions.  Although I’ve never felt a chill around midnight as the breeze from a flourish of his cape flows through the studio, I have encountered him daily in the beauty of every structural detail.  Even the simple task of opening a window causes me to reflect on his genius in all aspects of design.  It is these reflections, more insightful than frightful, that will become the future topics for my blog.

Questions or Comments?  I’d love to hear from you.

Audrey