Boxy house has the Wright stuff


January 22, 1995|By Adele Evans | Adele Evans,Special to The Sun

Twenty years ago, if you had told Sandi and Philip Cowett they would be living in a home inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, they might have answered, "Frank who?"

Virginia natives, Mr. and Mrs. Cowett loved traditional architecture and thought they'd wind up with a house draped in Colonial charm -- certainly not in the contemporary style of the famous architect.

"I had lived in Colonials before," Mrs. Cowett says. "I didn't like modern, but when I walked into this house, I fell in love."

While Mrs. Cowett, 46, a private-practice psychoanalyst, and Mr. Cowett, 49, a senior staff engineer at AlliedSignal Corp., were living in Washington but considering a move to Baltimore, a real estate agent told them about a "showplace" in Perry Hall. The house was designed and built by a Frank Lloyd Wright fan who tried to emulate his avant-garde, naturalistic style.

"The house wasn't very tall and seemed odd, short and strange . . . like a box," Mrs. Cowett says. "When I walked in, I absolutely fell in love. It was so different."

But love alone wouldn't get them in. The Cowetts said the owner had walked out of settlement meetings in the past because he didn't approve of the prospective buyers.

Bypassing both real estate agents, Mr. and Mrs. Cowett went directly to the owner. In 1980 they moved in, paying $80,000.

"We made a deal," says Mr. Cowett. "He had to know someone loved it as much as he did. The real estate agents wanted us to have a more neutral attitude."

Built in 1965, the four-bedroom, 2,200-square-foot home is box-like and modern on the outside, featuring a half-stone, half-plastic siding facade, upper and lower decks and a side patio.

Inside, the house seems larger than the outside and, as Wright would have loved, brings the outside in. Huge sliding glass doors allow the back yard to leap into the living room and the master bedroom.

Two skylights, one above the living room and the other in the upstairs bathroom, bring in more natural light. Earth tones and plenty of wood accent the setting and add to the home's warmth.

"This home was airy and had a feeling of peace and openness," Mrs. Cowett says. "I had a feeling there was something different here. I'm a spiritual person and need a place to meditate and feel peaceful and warm."

Vertical lines dominate the architecture, including a soaring, two-way rock fireplace; nine-foot ceilings; exposed, 12-inch beams; pine ceilings; tall windows; and vertical, walnut, European-styled kitchen cabinets.

The straight stairway, decorated on one side with wooden rods, leads downstairs to two bedrooms, one of which is occupied by son Patrick, 19.

Mr. Cowett takes a more reserved view of the home.

"There's so little that's standard here, it's harder to maintain," he says.

The 8-foot glass windows near the front door, for example, cost more to replace because they weren't a stock height, he said. Then there was the roof. Wright was famous for flat, leaky roofs and the Cowetts' home was no exception. Mr. Cowett quickly replaced it with a shallow hip roof he designed himself, so that water would run off but the roof would still look flat to the eye.

"I loved impressionism before. Now I'm interested in Chagall, and other modern art," Mrs. Cowett says, adding that they even purchased a Frank Lloyd Wright coffee table book.

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