By Genevieve Castelino, co-owner of the Christie House

I first learned about Frank Lloyd Wright while studying architecture in Mumbai, India in the 1980s.

Those were the pre-internet, pre-computer days. All I had to go on was a picture of the Edgar J. Kauffman Sr. House in a dog-eared book in our library. But that image was enough to ignite a lifelong love for Wright’s visionary design and architecture. In that library, I spent many a meditative hour doodling Fallingwater’s horizontal lines.

Little did I imagine that thirty-five years later, my husband Kiran Merchant and I would be living in a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Living in a Usonian House

It was love at first sight when I saw the Christie House–a Usonian house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright nestled in the woods bordering the Jockey Hollow National Park in New Jersey. We purchased it in February 2020. Since both of us are architects, Kiran and I had a clear vision and plan for the projects that would make it a comfortable home for us and bring it back to life for future Wright enthusiasts to enjoy.

Christie House exterior. Courtesy Genevieve Castelino and Kiran Merchant.

Christie House exterior. Courtesy Genevieve Castelino and Kiran Merchant.

Christie House exterior. Courtesy Genevieve Castelino and Kiran Merchant.

Christie House exterior. Courtesy Genevieve Castelino and Kiran Merchant.

Restoration Challenges at Christie House

What we couldn’t have foreseen was that a looming pandemic would disrupt every plan that we had made. Over the next few months, contractor and material delays, combined with the new vagaries of the pandemic, caused immense stress and frustration. Our experience mirrored almost exactly the many frustrations the Christies experienced in their efforts in building their home. Like us, they were on a budget, had a deadline to move from the house they were living in during construction, and struggled to find contractors who could work with the precision and sensitivity necessary for Wright’s design.

Connecting to Lucille Christie

I particularly related to and sympathized with Lucille Christie through the letters she wrote to Wright. During the construction of the Christie house in 1940, Lucille, in her 30s with two children, was on a deadline to move out of their rental and relied on snail mail for drawings and directions from Wright’s office in Taliesin. In just five letters, Lucille shows different sides of her personality: by turns warm, gentle, firm, diplomatic, purposeful, and unafraid to speak her mind when things didn’t go as planned.

The Christie House was the first Wright-designed house in New Jersey. Finding contractors for this undertaking was by every measure a daunting task. When she complained, in her July 27th letter, “you’ve taken our money and designed us a house no one can build without your help,” I felt her pain.

More than anything else, I share with Lucille her unbridled passion for this home that she so eloquently articulates in her final 1944 letter to Wright:

“I can’t help but feel that you would be gratified with the way we have lived in the house – it truly has brought us a way of life to which we had not been accustomed & how could we have been since it is impossible in the ordinary house? We took to it and our lives have been enriched as a result.”

There has not been a single day since we moved into this house that I have not felt a sense of awe for a feature I hadn’t noticed before, or pure elation when the sunlight streams through the window at just the right angle to illuminate a plant or create a pattern on a wall.

I experienced the same panic as Lucille did while hosting a party at the Christie house: Lucille had to move her party outdoors because too many guests arrived. Similarly, I had to move an outdoor party of over forty guests indoors on short notice because of the acrid air from the June 2023 Canadian wildfires.

I know exactly what Lucille means when she talks of the warmth of the cypress wood. Every day I feel the peacefulness she felt when walking down the hallway and the low ceiling height forced her attention outward toward the majestic trees. Like her, I revel in the nature surrounding the house in every direction, feeling as if Wright so intentionally framed all of it in dozens of window panes.

I love this house as passionately as Lucille did. I am grateful for her dogged persistence in seeing through to completion the construction of this house. That in 2023, a woman transplanted to New Jersey from India could feel such a deep and profound connection with a woman transplanted to New Jersey from California through a house built in 1940 speaks volumes of the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Read More Homeowner Stories

The SAVEWRIGHT: Notable Women Homeowners Project tells the stories of the remarkable women who have stewarded houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Posted September 25, 2023