The Louis Penfield House: Where Every Room Tells a Story in Willoughby Hills, OH

The Architectural Marvel of Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright, synonymous with groundbreaking architecture, has left an indelible mark on the American landscape. His designs, often ahead of their time, have been the subject of admiration and study for decades.

The Louis Penfield House in Willoughby Hills, Ohio, represents Wright’s ingenuity and commitment to creating functional and beautiful homes.

Wright’s architectural philosophy was deeply rooted in organic architecture, where the built environment harmonizes with the natural surroundings. The Louis Penfield House is no exception. Designed in the Usonian style—a term coined by Wright to describe affordable and easily accessible homes—the house is a marvel of modern architecture.

The style of the house is often categorized as “Moderne,” a term that encapsulates its sleek lines, functional design, and innovative materials. The house was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1997, further cementing its status as an architectural gem worth preserving for future generations.

What sets the Louis Penfield House apart from other Wright creations is its unique adaptation to the needs of its original owner, Louis Penfield. Wright’s designs are known for their low entryways, but this house breaks the mold with its high doorways, a feature specifically designed to accommodate Penfield’s 6-foot-8-inch frame.

The Origin Story: Louis Penfield and Frank Lloyd Wright

In 1952, Louis Penfield, a painter with a towering presence, found himself in Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio in Wisconsin. During a tour, Penfield boldly asked Wright if he could design a house for someone as tall as him. Wright, never one to back down from a challenge, accepted.

Penfield House
Louis Penfield House” by Stilfehler is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Wright’s initial response to Penfield’s request was both humorous and insightful. He asked Penfield to stand under a beam and declared, “Anyone that tall is a weed.” Despite the jest, Wright took the challenge seriously. Six months later, Penfield received preliminary drawings that showcased a house uniquely tailored to his height.

The drawings featured a house with high ceilings, narrow stairs with wide steps, and 16 thin ribbon windows accentuating Penfield’s tall frame. Wright’s design was an architectural feat and a personalized masterpiece. Each element was carefully thought out to make Penfield feel at home, literally and figuratively.

The house was eventually built in 1955, fulfilling Penfield’s dream of owning a home that didn’t just accommodate his height but celebrated it. The Louis Penfield House is a testament to Wright’s ability to adapt his architectural genius to the individual needs of his clients.

The House’s Unique Features

Upon entering the Louis Penfield House, one is immediately struck by its long and thin structure. The house features a “floating staircase” supported by ceiling beams, a design element that adds a touch of modernity and elegance to the interior.

The house also boasts a bottleneck entryway that enhances the home’s sense of space and flow. But perhaps the most striking aspect is the walls made almost entirely of windows. One of these windows offers a panoramic view of the outside, allowing residents and visitors to feel like they are a part of the surrounding landscape.

The color scheme of the house centers on red-stained wood and ochre walls. This choice of colors not only complements the natural surroundings but adds warmth and coziness to the interior. It’s a home that invites you to relax, breathe, and be.

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If you’re looking for things to do in Willoughby Hills, Ohio, visiting this architectural marvel should be on your list. The house is not just a building; it’s an experience that offers a glimpse into the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright and the possibilities of modern architecture.

The Restoration Journey

After Louis Penfield passed away, the house went through a transition period. For five years, it was maintained as a rental property by the Penfield family. However, the house needed more than routine upkeep; it required a loving restoration to return to its original glory.

Paul Penfield, Louis’s son, took on the monumental task of restoring the house. Over four years and at a cost of approximately $100,000, Paul breathed new life into his family’s home. The restoration was about fixing what was broken and preserving a piece of history for future generations to appreciate.

Since 2003, the Louis Penfield House has been available for overnight stays. It’s one of the few Wright-designed homes where you can admire the architecture and experience living in it. The house has been meticulously maintained to ensure that each guest can fully appreciate Wright’s vision.

The restoration journey of the Louis Penfield House is a story of love, dedication, and an unwavering commitment to architectural preservation. It serves as an inspiration for anyone interested in the intricate relationship between architecture and history.

Living the Wright Way: Overnight Stays at the Louis Penfield House

Imagine waking up in a Frank Lloyd Wright home surrounded by 30 wooded acres in Lake County, Ohio. The Louis Penfield House offers this unique experience, allowing guests to live inside Wright’s architectural vision. The house is fully equipped with three bedrooms and one and one-half baths, accommodating up to five people comfortably.

When you reserve the house, you’re not just booking a room but securing the entire place. It’s a space that offers solitude and tranquility, far removed from the hustle and bustle of daily life. The house is not a bed and breakfast, but supermarkets and restaurants are conveniently located nearby.

The property is also close to the Metropark system, offering a variety of outdoor activities for those looking to explore the natural beauty of Ohio. It’s a perfect getaway that combines architectural brilliance with the serenity of nature.

The Chagrin River runs through the property for those interested in fishing, offering another layer of outdoor adventure. It’s not just a stay; it’s an experience that allows you to live the Wright way, even if it’s just for a few days.

The House and the Land: An Organic Connection

The Louis Penfield House sits on a rise overlooking the Chagrin River. In 1955, the home site was farmland with wheat fields and river bluffs in the distance. Wright took advantage of this natural setting, designing the house to face the view.

Over the years, the land around the house has evolved. Trees have reclaimed the area, bringing forth a crop of Black Cherry hardwood. This wood was used in the 2002 renovation of the house’s furniture and cabinetry, furthering Wright’s vision of organic architecture.

The extended kitchen countertop in the house was milled from a Black Cherry tree that had toppled in a storm less than 50 yards from the home. This use of material from the land is a beautiful example of how architecture can harmonize with nature.

The relationship between the Louis Penfield House and its surrounding land is a living example of Wright’s philosophy of organic architecture. It’s a symbiotic relationship that has stood the test of time, making the house a building and a part of the landscape.

Latest News and Developments

As of October 2023, the Louis Penfield House attracts admirers and overnight guests. The Louis Penfield House continues to attract architecture fans, history enthusiasts, and those curious to live the experience of residing in a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

No significant changes or events are planned for the house in the immediate future. Its current status as a rental property where guests can spend the night is expected to continue, allowing more people to experience this architectural gem.

The official website and social media channels offer regular news and information for those interested in the latest updates. It’s a way to stay connected with the house and its ongoing journey.

The Louis Penfield House is a timeless piece of architecture, its story continually unfolding. It’s a living testament to Frank Lloyd Wright’s genius and Louis Penfield’s vision, a story far from over.

Penfield House
Penfield House” by At.One is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Conclusion

The Louis Penfield House is more than just an architectural marvel; it’s a living history. From its unique design tailored for Louis Penfield’s height to its meticulous restoration and current status as an overnight rental, the house is a testament to the enduring legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright.

It inspires architectural preservation and offers a unique experience for those lucky to spend a night within its walls. The house and its surrounding land have evolved together, embodying Wright’s vision of organic architecture.

For residents and visitors of Willoughby Hills, Ohio, the Louis Penfield House is not just a local landmark; it’s a source of pride and a symbol of architectural brilliance. It is a reminder of what can be achieved when vision, creativity, and a deep respect for the natural world come together.

The Louis Penfield House is not just a building; it’s a story that continues to inspire and captivate. It’s a story that deserves to be told, experienced, and cherished for generations.

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