Architect John C. Senhauser, FAIA, of John Senhauser Architects in Cincinnati, Ohio, thought he knew of all the Frank Lloyd Wright houses in the state. Until, that is, he got a call from a client asking him to look at a neglected kitchen in a Wright house that he had never heard of.
The architect jumped at the chance, but kept his feet firmly on the ground. “I came here to improve a kitchen, not to make a mark,” he says. “I simply tried to create a kitchen that maintained the character and integrity of the house, but at the same time accommodated a new owner and a contemporary lifestyle. Modesty aside, this project won Senhauser the Grand prize in the 2000/2001 Sub-Zero/Wolf Kitchen Design Contest.
The six-bedroom house was built in the late-1950s in Wright’s Usonian-style, which married individual style to large-scale, affordable housing for the middle class. Like all Usonian houses, this one made use of standardized details and was designed on a four-foot grid system. “All the windows fit into that module, all the brickwork fits into that module, all the siding,” Senhauser explains.
The long and narrow kitchen had originally been built as a workroom for servants and contained the kitchen appliances and cabinetry, plus the washer and dryer. Just off the 265-square-foot room was a small bedroom and bathroom for servants. Over the years, the workroom had become the victim of age and poor planning, with awkward counter and appliance replacements. One of the challenges was to create a family living area out of a room never intended for family use, without adding square footage.
Senhauser started by examining the original terrazzo floor. With brass strips as gridlines, the flooring was aligned to the original four-foot module. He used the floor to set up the lines that determined how the cabinets would be subdivided and where the appliances would be placed.
“As much as possible, we used that grid to determine cabinet sizes, the joints between cabinets, and the size of doors and windows,” he says.
To maximize natural light and take advantage of the wooded views, Senhauser removed all cabinetry and a dishwasher from the exterior wall. The original casement windows were repaired and refinished; brass pulls were also recycled.
The original brickwork was retained, as was the wood soffit around the perimeter of the room. Only a small part of the soffit required replacement in order to accommodate two stainless-steel Sub-Zero 700 Series Integrated units (one a refrigerator, the other a refrigerator/freezer combination).
The new cypress cabinetry was aniline-stained to match the woodwork in the rest of the house, in which all walls are either cypress siding, brick, or, in the case of the bathrooms, ceramic tile. The stain process was chosen so as not obscure the wood’s grain and to give it a slightly aged look in keeping with the rest of the house. Most of the wall cabinets sport glass fronts to reiterate the room’s windows and enhance the aura of space.
Using stainless steel for the appliances and backsplash was the architect’s idea, but the homeowners readily agreed. “Were it available in his era, Wright would have liked the stainless steel,” Senhauser states. “I think he would have appreciated the utilitarian, pragmatic nature of it.”
And the red knobs on the Wolf rangetop? Senhauser is confident that Wright would have approved. “Red was his favorite color.”