THE OLFELT/FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT HOUSE

The house at 2206 Parklands Lane was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Dr. Paul C. Olfelt and family in 1958.  Olfelt worked as a radiologist at Methodist Hospital.  The Olfelts met with Wright personally before Wright died in April 1959 at age 92.

 

The 1700 sq. ft. house was built into a hillside on 3.77 acres.  Construction was started by contractor Charles Schleich in the Spring of 1959 and the family moved into the home in September 1960.  Financial constraints account for the long construction time.

 

The house is not on the National Register of Historic Places.  Although there is a file on it at the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, there is no state or local mechanism that would protect this property.

 

View a picture at www.dgunning.org/architecture/Minn/olfelt.htm

 

In June 2016 the home went on the market.  Read story in the StarTribune Here.


 

Northwest Architect is the publication of the Minnesota Society of Architects.  Its July-August 1969 issue included a story about this historic residence, written by Dr. Olfelt himself.  The article is reproduced here, telling the story of how the house was conceived, designed, and built.

 

From the early days of our marriage my wife and I hoped to build a home to satisfy our family needs and our desire to live in a place of beauty.  This did not necessarily mean luxury, vastness or automatic splendor.  We hoped for a refuge from the world for part of our day, a place where we could enjoy nature and the beauty of man’s creativeness in harmony with nature.  We wanted a home that by virtue of its character would help us and our children be dissatisfied with the ordinary.

 

We have  never been sophisticated students of architectural greats.  Our exposure to Mr. Wright’s works and ideas was initially rather casual through some university courses but became more intimate from local Radcliff tours of the Little and Willey houses and private glimpses of the Neils’ house through the shrubs.  Our greatest knowledge of him came from his books.

 

By the time our family of three children bulged the walls of our little Cape Cod home, our feelings were definitely against the cold forms of international architecture.  We began to search for an architect in our area who practices the principles of Mr. Wright.  In so doing we asked a friend, Vern Knutson, an apprentice a that time with Mr. Wright, to design a home for us on our rather difficult hilly property in suburban Minneapolis.  He declined but suggested we write to Mr. Wright for his help.  We thought Vern had lost his mind.  It seemed unbelievable that we could interest Mr. Wright in  our problems.  Vern said that any approach to Mr. Wright must be made without reference to him and that a direct relationship must be established with Mr. Wright.  After some consideration I wrote Mr. Wright of our wants and needs and asked his help.  He replied through his secretary, Mr. Masselink, that he would have to have information about our property, our requirements and budget.  Pictures of the property, topographical survey, a long list of requirements and our limited budget were forwarded to him.  A three-sentence reply was forthcoming.  It said he would like to help us get what we need and want and would consider the problem soon.

 

In the middle of June, 1958, we had an appointment to meet with Mr. Wright at Taliesin to talk over some specific requirements of the home.  On our arrival Mr. Masselink explained that Mr. Wright was sick in bed and that he would not be able to meet with us that day.  It was the week after his birthday, then thought to be his 89th.  Somehow we got the impression that his being indisposed was related to a birthday celebration.  W.W. Peters and Stephen Oyakawa met with us then and reviewed our requirements and in general told us how Mr. Wright would likely modify them to stay within the budget.  Among other things we had hoped to have a study, three bedrooms and children’s play room as well as a living and dining area.  When the preliminary drawings arrived we were thrilled with the beauty of the house and the intimate relation of the house with the local terrain.  In approximately 1600 sq. ft. of living space the three bedrooms were preserved but there was no children’s playroom, study or separate dining room.  My study area was in the living area which also contained dining space.  In spite of some limitation of space we were immediately enthusiastic.

 

In September, 1958, we discussed the preliminary drawings of our home with Mr. Wright at Taliesin.  He was very warm and friendly toward us, putting us quite at ease.  He seemed anxious that we liked the house.  He showed his pleasure over the house and seemed to encourage us with remarks as, “beautiful little nest.”  He said the home grew from “within out” and yet was appropriate to the hill of the site.  He took the time to discuss organic architecture.  We proposed changes, which for the most part he accepted, since they did not interfere with his original concept.  We proposed a basement for additional space under the living area.  The preliminary drawings had all of the house on slab with no basement.  Because of the existing grade, a basement could easily be achieved.  He agreed but cautioned us never to put anyone down there.  It would be all right for a shop and storage space but that would have to be all.  We also wished not to have doors directly to the outside terrace from the bedrooms, in an effort to control the children.  He agreed but told us not be so rigid with our children.  He said that the children usually turn out just like the parents, “usually no better and no worse.”

 

Our personal experience with Mr. Wright was obviously limited in comparison to most clients.  We feel extremely fortunate in having known him even so briefly.

 

We received the final working drawings shortly before his death in 1959.  Friends in the building supply fields suggested two or three contractors who might have the ability and interest in building our home.  After recovering from the initial shock of the bids, we decided that we would go ahead with construction.  We have since found that Mr. Wright usually forced his clients to extend themselves.  Perhaps they appreciate their homes more for it.

 

Charles Schleich, a remarkably patient and able builder, diligently followed the drawings with only brief telephone consultations with Taliesin and a few inspection trips by Vernon Knutson.  There were no design changes after the working drawings were completed or during construction.  We did substitute double glass windows for single pane windows as called for in the specifications, however.  After construction was completed one of my neighbors asked when we were going to finish the garage.  The car port remains as designed and functions well even in our climate.

 

After living in the home for nearly nine years we are extremely pleased with it.  We never truly understood Mr. Wright’s philosophy but every day we sense an honesty in the intrinsic beauty and freedom of his design.  It is a comfortable home also.  The concrete floors are heated, producing an even heat.  The brick walls have a warm feeling and are relatively free of maintenance, as is the rest of the house.  The sun at times is a problem in the living room, producing heat and glare through the large glass walls.  It is now controlled by free standing shades.  During one of our first dinner parties in the house I had to supply some of my guests at the dinner table with visor caps to protect them from the sun.  There are a few other features which require a sense of humor also but for the most part it is a remarkably well functioning house and achieves most of our major desires in a home.