News & Feature Articles Written About People & Places in Lake County, Ohio            

See what it’s like to live Wright
Louis Penfield House offers ‘house beautiful’ escape just east of Cleveland

By Sarah Jaquay, Chicago Tribune
November 29, 2009

WILLOUGHBY, Ohio — - “Every Frank Lloyd Wright house is unique. That’s reason enough (to visit). His early work is well-represented in Chicago, but his later work is much more spread out across the country,” said Paul Penfield, co-owner of the Louis Penfield House just outside of town.

The late Louis Penfield was one of Wright’s residential clients in the early 1950s. Paul, who is Louis’ son, turned his idyllic childhood home about 20 miles east of Cleveland into an overnight lodge in 2003, giving guests the run of the 30 acres of woodlands surrounding the three-bedroom Usonian home. It continues to attract guests from all over the world who want to experience living in a Wright residence.

Paul and wife Donna believe their success results from the privacy. Guests rent the entire home, which sleeps five comfortably, and have the grounds to themselves.

Wright coined the term “Usonian” during the Depression, when he created a distinctly American style of affordable architecture. In an effort to cut costs, Usonians usually have no basements or attics and little ornamentation.

But few Penfield House visitors will think it plain. With floor-to-ceiling windows, it has an open floor plan with warm, brick-colored floors and soaring ceilings.

In terms of setting, it’s reminiscent of a mini-Fallingwater – Wright’s magnificent cantilevered commission in the Laurel Highlands near Pittsburgh. Although a river doesn’t run through it, Penfield House is just yards from the Chagrin River, which is stocked with steelhead and salmon.

Visitors may find the story of Penfield House sedate compared with the Cheney House Bed & Breakfast in Oak Park. (Wright left his family and practice and went to Europe for a year with Mamah Cheney, who later was murdered by a servant at Taliesin, Wright’s home in Wisconsin.) But the story still is interesting. Louis Penfield was teaching in Missouri when his wife, Pauline, wanted to return to her family’s farm in the Chagrin Valley. Louis agreed, on the condition that Wright design a house for them.

Louis was a slim 6-foot-8, and the 5-foot-8 Wright was notoriously contemptuous of tall people. Paul likes to quote their first exchange. Louis asked Wright, “Do you think you can design a house for someone as tall as me?” The architect replied, “Yes, but we’ll have to design a machine to tip you sideways first.” Indeed, the doorways, corridors and staircase at Penfield House reflect Louis’ long, slender frame.

Despite being just a few minutes from quaint downtown Willoughby, Penfield House is sheltered, and wildlife is a key attraction.

“If you sit here quietly, eventually deer will come right up to the patio to feed; you’ll see wild turkeys – even bald eagles on occasion.”

The owners don’t provide breakfast but supply coffee, tea, wood for the fireplace and a plethora of books about Wright. Paul and Donna realize there are plenty of Wright structures to tour, but Penfield House’s advantage is the ability to experience Wright’s concept of “house beautiful” – the enhanced quality of life through good design.