Happy Halloween!

“…and things that go bump (scurry, scratch, snap, screech, squeak, flutter, croak, howl, and yes, baa-aa) in the night, Good Lord deliver us!”

The woods between the houses in our neighborhood attract all manner of forest “critters” for us to enjoy. Add to that the protected wetlands (fens) on some properties, and you’ve got a Michigan menagerie of watchable wildlife.  

Gentle deer, silly turkeys, chattering squirrels, and even the Evil Chipmunk who burrows under the Lanai turf, put on an Emmy  worthy nature channel show. 

But it’s a daytime TV show. 

When the sun goes down the channel changes, and so do I. Snow White singing to those cute forest critters, hoping they’ll actually pick up a broom and mop and make themselves useful, becomes a full fledged scream queen starring in, “Nightmare on Hulett Road”!

Do you know what a lovely wooded area becomes when it gets dark? Yup, the “deep, dark woods” of EVERY scary fairy tale and horror movie. And the wetlands? You’re on location for the upcoming thriller, “The Fen Thing”.

The animal cast also sheds their Disney image. The hoots, howls, and screeches of uncredited extras echo through the hollow, as I stare through the bedroom windows into the darkness. Barking dogs attempt to warn of silent predators, but when the sound of squawking and flapping is suddenly cut short, am I an aural witness to the balance of nature, or the cold blooded murder of an entire Canadian goose family? 

Hunkering under my comforter, I hear the rooftop ballet of scurrying and thumping, trying to envision adorable, cavorting raccoons and possum, but fearing all the while that it’s a house-h(a)unting family of mice looking for a cozy Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian to call home!

How does my fear of forest creatures relate to architecture? Well, when FLW spoke of bringing the outside in, I thought he meant the views, not the four legged “tourists” waiting for a chance to sneak inside to see what we’ve done with the place! 

This brings us to the new Lanai lights, the year-round Jack O’Lanterns illuminating the space outside my bedroom window whenever I hear a “bump in the night” and delivering me from my irrational fear of the monsters lurking in the Michigan woods.*

And the “baa-aa”? Either a neighborhood kid’s 4H project, or the call of The Fen Thing!

*Editor’s Note: The Goetsch-Winckler House is actually in a semi-suburban neighborhood a mile away from a mall and Meijer. The author is gullible enough to believe the squeaking, flying creatures flitting from tree to tree on a summer evening are birds up past their bedtime! 

Glazed and Confused

Although there have been numerous scholarly references to both the “fixed and movable vertical glazed fenestration” elements of our Usonian home, we have never said, “It’s getting warm in here. We should open the vertical glazed fenestration.” 

Instead, we say, “Let’s open up,” (which must have colloquial linguistic roots, since everything actually opens out), conveniently avoiding the identification of the movable openings as windows or doors.  

Based solely on my authority as a homeowner and many summer days spent “opening and closing up”, I’ve derived my own definition of windows and doors in the Goetsch-Winckler House.

If passing one’s body through it will get you seriously injured or stuck, it’s a WINDOW. The bank of windows on the west side of the Studio allows access to the built-in outdoor planter.  Every window is operable and is perfect for throwing open for yodeling, Sound of Music style, into the hollow! Or maybe just watering the plants.A vertical rod locks the windows and a unique hardware system holds them open. 

The very narrow bathroom window runs floor to ceiling like a door, but operates on the window rod system.  Only a mischievous small child would consider using it as an escape!

Mysteriously, two glass panes in the large bedroom have vertical rods, but have no hinges or ghost marks for screens and are not at all operable.  I’ll have to check the original blueprints for clues.

Doors!  We’ve got lots and lots of doors, but which one is THE door? Who knows.  If it takes you to solid ground and has a door knob, it’s a DOOR.  We’ve decided that THE door is the one with the deadbolt, but it’s very easy to exchange the pairs of doors, so we’ll never know for sure.

The entrance wall has 5 pairs of doors and 5 fixed panels.  The doorknobs are original and require plenty of TLC.  They could be stock hardware from the 1940’s so I’m posting close-up photos, hoping someone may know of a source for replacement parts.  

A pair of doors in the Studio opens to the Lanai, providing welcome breezes to the Alcove across from it, and a pleasant view from the piano bench.

Doors in both bedrooms also open to the Lanai.  All windows and doors have interior screens that stay in place year round.  

Our contractor installed a sweeping weather stripping at the bottom of the Lanai area screens to make me feel safer from wandering forest creatures that might sneak under them. 

OK, stop laughing.  I’m convinced an evil chipmunk is stalking me.  When Frank Lloyd Wright said, “Bring the outside in,” he did NOT mean the chipmunks!


“A Place to Keep Your STUFF”

“That’s all your house is- a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”…George Carlin, STUFF

Gallery Shelves & ClosetGallery Shelves OPEN

Visit our Flickr album, Built-In Storage, for a look inside EVERY closet and cabinet.  https://flic.kr/s/aHskMT7F8L

We live in a house designed around someone else’s STUFF.  Alma Goetsch and Katherine Winckler were artists who loved to cook and entertain at home.  We are musicians who love to make reservations and entertain in other’s homes.

Fortunately, the STUFF of both artists and musicians does have a few things in common.  Large canvases in progress and bulky amplifiers both need a place to hide when space is needed.  Paints, brushes, and art supplies look just as messy as stacks of sheet music, instruments and electronics when strewn around a room.  A large loom cannot be tucked away any more than a grand piano.  Both need breathing space in the room they occupy.

With some exceptions, the built-in storage Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the G-W House works for us.  There is a cavernous cabinet in the Alcove where large uglies can be hidden but easily accessed.  The drop down shelves in the Gallery are perfect for stacks of music and smaller accessories that look best out of sight.  With these items away when not in use, the pieces that define us (grand piano, vibraphone) become decorative and the Studio retains its original function as a multi-purpose space.

Many visitors to the G-W House have observed its compact size and then remarked, “Oh, but you don’t actually live here.” Yes, it is our second home, but we DO actually live in it.  When in residence for an extended time, we have a full wardrobe in the closets and more STUFF in the cabinets than seen on a tour.  We clean, do laundry, and even cook!

We are more minimalist than hoarders, but our entire wardrobes for all seasons (suitcases, too) could be stored in the bedroom closets, with coats in the hall closet and no need to add dressers in the bedrooms.  There would still be room for the odd vacuum cleaner or other cleaning miscellany that would not fit in the kitchen.

BUT…take a close look at the items currently stashed in the small bedroom closet: picnic cooler, ladder, other outdoor STUFF.  Additional items best stored outside: shovels, brooms, tools, etc. are also found throughout the house.

Small Bedroom Closet OPEN

Why, you ask, are these items inside when they could be outside? Where outside?  IN THE CELLAR-my worst nightmare, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s, too!

The Cellar was added by the builder without Wright’s permission because the ladies wanted storage for their jams and jellies.  Wright scholars know his position on attics and cellars.    NO, just NO.

As we continue our experiment in Usonian lifestyle I can tell you firsthand why I agree.  Benign as it may look to some, to me the Cellar is a scary subterranean hell into which I have descended maybe 3 times in 10 years!  Had FLW’s plans been followed it may have instead been a large outdoor closet easily accessed from the car port, and perfect for snow shovels, tools, bicycles, and seasonal outdoor items.  Dream on!

I’ve seen beautiful, newly constructed (yes, with permits and approval)  outdoor sheds at other Usonian homes, but can just imagine opening the door to one on our wooded property and finding a family of raccoons running an Animals Airbnb in our absence!  So, NO on that.

I can only hope that the spirits of Alma and Katherine, the fearless midwestern women who commissioned the Cellar, are with me as I strive to conquer my phobia and descend the steps to the last storage frontier.

Cellar Steps

“It’s Hip to Be Square”

-Huey Lewis and the News

Frank Lloyd Wright houses often feature a geometric theme.  The Goetsch-Winckler is based on a 4’ square grid scored into the concrete floor and reiterated by the 4’ square sheets of plywood in the ceiling.

Studio Ceiling View

The rooms, windows, doors, and built-ins line up on the 4’ grid, and the dining chairs and ottomans have square upholstered sections.


Dining Table Section with Chairs

Whoever built the wine rack/shelf insert in the kitchen was inspired by both the square motif and the cantilevered planes.

Wine Rack Insert

I’ve begun to research the symbolic meaning of the square in art, architecture and world cultures. Because the square can mean SO many things to so many people, Frank Lloyd Wright included,  I believe it is up to me to find meaning in this geometric form as I inhabit the house.  Currently it gives me a sense of stability and order, recalls the seasons and directions, and inspires me to continue researching its meaning in various Eastern cultures.

I remain aware of the square motif when choosing decorative items (daybed pillows, the pattern on the master bedroom duvet) but without mindlessly defaulting to it, e.g. although Fiestaware is now offered in a square pattern I chose the original round.

Duvet Cover

In many elements of the house, the square is hidden within the  rectangular shapes of boards, walls, windows, doors and furniture.  I hope my architect readers will direct us all to scholarly works on this theme in the Comments section.

One particular item with hidden squares is the end table FLW designed for the house.  We have three of these, each a slightly different size by fractions of an inch.  We use them in the bedrooms.  They were included in the purchase of the home, and follow the original blueprint, but I am not aware of when they were constructed.

End Table

While searching for inspiration to design a logo for the house my gaze settled on the end table. Initially one sees the single square and rectangles formed by the shelf but on closer observation the nine square grid so prevalent in Eastern culture can be overlaid on the table.

End Table Square Overlay

After endless reworking (graphic design is not my occupation, it’s my preoccupation) I came up with a nine square inspired design that incorporated our Fiestaware colors. Of course, Frank Lloyd Wright’s name had to be featured in his signature red square!


The Lyin’, the Bitch and the Wardrobe

(With apologies to C.S. Lewis)

The large bedroom, originally Katherine Winckler’s room, has two closets on the north wall.  The smaller closet is lower, creating a deep shelf on top, and is basically unchanged from the original FLW design.

Small Wardrobe

The larger closet, however, has been through many alterations.  We found it in a state of well-meaning repair, with a wood veneer and duck taped panel on the back wall covering who knows what.  Never did find out what was behind there, but it surely wasn’t Narnia!

Large Wardrobe BEFORE

The Lyin’…Knowing my aversion to mice, everyone told me the glue traps set while we were absent were for spiders, not mice.  After discovering dried corn in all my boots a few days after we moved in for the winter, even I could figure out that we weren’t on a spider hunt!

The Bitch…Do YOU like to find corn in your boots?  Of course we set numerous mouse traps, and I developed a ritual of banging on the closet door, waiting for any scurrying, then preparing myself for the possibility of a mouse in one of the traps before I opened the door to retrieve my clothes.  AND, I complained.  Long, loud, and to anyone who would listen, including my husband, who I suspect was just feigning interest.

The Wardrobe…Enter Bob, the amazing contractor we hired to restore and preserve the Goetsch-Winckler House while making it livable for the 21st century. (More about these projects later.)  Bob rebuilt my closet, removed the “panel to Narnia”, constructed usable shelves, and turned my Frank Lloyd Wright House back into a Usonian HOME. 

Large Wardrobe AFTER



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


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.