Organic Architecture

No compromises were made in the design or construction of this Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired residence.

By Dennis McCloskey

Every builder and architect knows that compromise makes a good umbrella but a poor roof.

No compromises were made in the design or construction of this Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired residence, which blends like an organism into the hills and streams of Mulmur Township near Shelburne, Ontario.

In fact, the roof of this contemporary “organic” home is the dominant element, as its shape and form follows the undulating rise and fall of the surrounding terrain of the Bruce Trail, overlooking the Boyne River.

“We worked with the local conservation authorities to obtain approval to site the house,” says Alexander Temporale, principal of ATA Architect Inc., of Oakville, Ontario. “We wanted to achieve a house that emerged from the hill and followed the edge of the hill to become part of the landscape. And because of the scenic location of the property, the owner wanted a lookout incorporated within the shell of the house, rather than a single element that popped out of the structure. So, we designed a roof as a third storey that follows the hill and melds into the highest part of the house.

Consequently, the whole house was captured within the roof plane.”
Constructed of large wood members and employing steel and concrete as span supports, parts of the cantilevered roof of thick cedar shakes were “resolved” or warped on-site to conform with the turns and movement of the house as it ebbs and flows along the hillside. “It was a complex roof,” says Temporale.

The owner was impressed with a similarly Wright-inspired home created by Temporale in nearby Caldeon. The architect also traveled to Pennsylvania to study Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, examples of two of Wright’s best work. “We used a similar planning module; a six-sided geometric form to create a house that is not rectangular but rather more organic in its plan and basic building module,” says Temporale.

Organic architecture, which was coined by Wright in 1908, is described as a philosophy of architecture that promotes harmony between human habitation and the natural world, through design approaches that are so sympathetic and integrated with its site that buildings, furnishings and surroundings become part of a unified, interrelated composition.

Craig Gutowski and his wife Evelyn Fotheringham are the owners of this functional and harmonious 7,500 square foot residence. The avid hikers and nature lovers wanted a home design that would grow out of the site and be inspired by nature as well as be sustainable, healthy, and conserving.
“Our overall intent was for a place of inspiration,” says Gutowski, who owns The Foundry/By The Fire, in Orangeville, a distributor of stoves, fireplaces, venting and accessories, and manufacturer of hearth accessories. “Our motive was not to build a house that is unique, or showy or impressive. The inspiration was not a matter of adornment, but what was attractive to us was a beauty that speaks to the organic element.” In describing the finished product that began four years ago, Gutowski says, “The beauty is in the structure. There is no icing on this cake.”

The interior of the home, which is nestled on 45 acres with flowing creeks, is also thoroughly fused with the site. There is an elemental ruggedness incorporated in hallways that are in concert with the nearby hiking trails. An open space concept allows fluid movement through the house. A person “flows” through the rooms, rather than walking into a series of rectangular spaces, shapes or forms.

A further semblance of this naturalized rhythm can be seen in the natural materials that were used to construct the building. Local craftspeople built the doors, and the interior and exterior stone came from quarries in Orillia and Wiarton. The stone from Wiarton is infused with grey tones, and the Orillia quarry offered stone that’s yellow-gold in colour. The builder mixed the two for an effective, overall, authentic and harmonious appearance that blends nicely with stucco in some places. Interior flooring includes limestone from Italy that was not cut so as to create a rustic appearance.

The main floor has two guest bedrooms and a home theatre room. Roof areas are exposed in the living areas of the first floor including the main foyer, living room, and dining room. The kitchen is centrally located. As well, a three-sided space around a fireplace acts as a central focus. The stairway leads up to the second floor master bedroom, and then to the third floor lookout that offers a panoramic view of the landscape.

The master bedroom occupies the entire second floor and includes a walkout to a deck. The lower level includes a full basement and walkout that leads to a waterfall and pond, where the water comes to the edge of the house and surrounds the main living area.

Gutowski and Fotheringham, who have lived in the vicinity for 30 years, say they were not in “acquisition mode” when they first discovered the “extremely rugged” vacant property. “We like to hike with our yellow Labrador, and we thought this would be a perfect place to hike and live and relax,” Gutowski says.

The resulting structure speaks for itself. If ever there was a home that was crafted to respond to its site, this Frank Lloyd Wright representation is one. This truly Canadian residence – which reflects the glorious landscape of our country and exists in harmony with it – is certainly made of the Wright stuff.