From Wright Tour Guide to Wright Homeowner

By Lacey Sikora

Photo by Maksim Akelin

The Bertha and Sol Friedman House, the first Wright designed for his planned Usonia community in Pleasantville, New York, has found a new set of stewards. The new owners of the 1948 house, Jane and Brian Renz, are Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy members and longtime fans of Wright’s work.

Brian Renz notes that he grew up and attended graduate school in Chicago, so he always had an interest in Wright. “I’ve lived in Lakeland, Florida, for about 40 years, and I’ve been a tour guide at Florida Southern College since I retired,” he says, referring to the campus that is home to the largest single-site collection of Wright-designed architecture in the world.

For both Brian and Jane, it has been a dream to own a Wright home. They have been members of the Conservancy for about five years and through their membership have enjoyed the ability to tour private Wright houses. Jane notes that even before they began attending the Conservancy’s annual conference, they took personal trips to see Wright-designed houses all over the country.

When the Friedman House was listed for sale, Jane says that the two went to see it twice, in different seasons. “We both fell in love with it.”

The empty-nesters have adult children who live in New York City, and the Friedman House’s location upstate made perfect sense as a summer getaway with proximity to family. For Brian and Jane, Wright’s planned community is an ideal location to spend time in retirement. Jane notes, “The Usonia community is a unique draw. You feel like you’re 100 miles from the city, when in fact, you’re only 30 miles from downtown.”

"We both fell in love with it."

The sellers of the home, Jon and Wendy Smith, said they considered themselves caretakers of Wright’s design and noted that with all of the original built-in furniture in place, they had little to move in other than toothbrushes when they purchased the home. Jane says she and Brian agree and plan to keep up the tradition of honoring the home’s history. They purchased a few Wright-designed chairs along with the house from the Smiths, and love that the home has remained intact for so long, right down to the color scheme.

Brian notes, “We have a photo from the January 1951 Architectural Forum featuring the house, and it remains very much as shown in the photo. Everything is very original and in very good shape.”

Nestled into its wooded lot, the 2,164-square-foot house consists of two intersecting circles with concrete slab roofs. Inside, Wright pulled materials from the outdoors, using concrete, stone and oak to finish the interiors of the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home. Its walls of windows bring in the outdoors.

The Renzes closed on the home in November 2018, and have already been to visit twice. While their children will have access to the house year-round, they plan to use it as their primary residence during the warmer months.

Jane notes that the Pleasantville community of 47 homes was also a selling point for them. “There’s such a common interest [among the community homeowners] in midcentury modern homes and in maintaining them. We’re looking forward to getting to know the other owners. The community pool and gathering spaces will be really nice in the summer as well.”

While they have found the Wright house of their dreams, the couple plans to continue to attend annual Conservancy tours and looks forward to seeing more Wright homes throughout the country. Brian admits that while he enjoys seeing all aspects of Wright’s design work, he has a special place in his heart for the Usonian designs.

“The Usonian design was of the era when I was a youngster. I really enjoy Wright’s contributions to that era.”

Photo by Maksim Akelin

Photo by Maksim Akelin

Photo by Maksim Akelin

Photo by Maksim Akelin

Posted on January 11, 2019

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