Stay overnight in a Frank Lloyd Wright house

I would have liked to stay for the night, or at least until dark, but at least I had access to the next best thing: two women whose words and passion could help describe the architectural gem on Adams Street in Two Rivers.

Jean Schelhorn of Ohio and Frances Crockett of North Carolina are longtime friends who this month paid $295 per night to stay in an ordinary working class Wisconsin neighborhood. When I met them, they were doing the laundry and talked about raking leaves.

This was a house that they wanted to take care of, they explained. It was not enough to simply pay to stay.

“You FEEL the outside while you’re inside,” Jean said, and she was not talking about temperature. “When you’re sitting here at night, that’s when you’ll notice the little things,” Frances added.

Jean raps on a door, noting it is simply plywood, and points out a light switch that was installed horizontally. She persuades me lie on the biggest bed, so I can see the view from it.

Frances talks up the kitchen, not because of amenities, but because of how a skylight brightens the room. “It feels like a tower,” she says.

Come nightfall, you’ll only be able to read a book at a desk or in the master bedroom. The soft amber lighting will make the space seem sacred.

This is an unusual house with many moods, and it seems destined to become Two Rivers’ biggest tourist attraction. Every window is a picture frame, every corner full of history and style.

The Bernard Schwartz House is the newest of three Frank Lloyd Wright houses in the nation that can be rented for as little as two nights. (The other two are the Seth Peterson Cottage, near Baraboo, and the Louis Penfield House, in Ohio.)

Wright designed hundreds of houses, of which about three dozen are open for public tours. The Schwartz House is the dream house that Life magazine in 1938 commissioned Wright to create for a typical family that earned $5,000-6,000 per year (about $55,000-65,000 today).

Schwartz, a manufacturer of dairy filters, liked what he saw in Life and had Wright build it (minus an outdoor swimming pool) the next year. At 3,000 square feet, with four bedrooms, three baths and fireplaces, the Usonian style house overlooks the pretty East Twin River.

Lisa Proechel and Michael Ditmer of Minnesota bought the house for almost $300,000 in 2003, spending about $200,000 since then in maintenance and repairs. More will be invested to bring the building back to its original design.

“Our intention is to give people a once in a lifetime opportunity to live in a Frank Lloyd Wright house,” the couple says online. “We don’t want the Schwartz House to be a museum but a house to be lived in and experienced in a relaxed and deliberate pace.”

Visibility increased this fall, after Wall Street Journal writer Terry Teachout stayed at the two Wisconsin Wright properties. “The Peterson Cottage feels like a work of art,” Terry observed, “the Schwartz House like a comfortable home that just happens to be heart-stoppingly beautiful.”

Environmentally, the owners describe the house “as green as you can get,” with radiant floor heating (and “no forced air system to spread mold, dust and other indoor pollutants”) and no paint/chemicals on floors, walls or ceilings.

“It’s very much in his vernacular – forward thinking and unconventional,” says Robert Jagemann. He is chairman/CEO of Bamco Architects, Manitowoc, which has been involved with Schwartz House restoration.

Jagemann says this house may have the oldest continuously operating, in-floor heating system in the country. Its carport was one of the first three built in the U.S.

Among the children raised here was Steven Schwartz, who stopped for a surprise visit in September. A guest journal describes his fond memories of the house. Visitors get an education in other ways, too; there is a library of books and videos about Wright.

Do the owners have their eye on any other Wright property that is for sale? Yes, Ditmer says, over the phone: “I’d like to have four or five of these places and have them all be vacation rentals.”

A student of architecture, Ditmer says he’s been a Wright admirer since he was a teen who visited the architect’s the Taliesin workshop and residence near Spring Green.

For more, see www.theschwartzhouse.com or call 651-222-5322. There soon will be guided property tours monthly.

A cardboard model of Wright’s house design for Life magazine is a part of a temporary Wisconsin Historical Museum exhibit about the architect.

The display, in downtown Madison until Nov. 26, also includes three pieces of Wright furniture and 33 rare images from Taliesin I, his first Spring Green home and workshop. The structure lasted about two years; arson destroyed the residential portion in 1914, and seven people were murdered inside.

For more, see www.wisconsinhistory.org/museum or call 608- 264-6555.

The only other Wright house in Wisconsin that is being rented to vacationers – the 1958 Seth Peterson Cottage – was one of the last jobs commissioned to Wright.

The secluded site has generous views of Mirror Lake and wooded terrain. It sleeps four (one of two beds folds out from corner bench seating) but is big enough to entertain about three dozen people. A large, stone fireplace is the most stunning interior feature.

Nightly rate is $225-275; minimum stay is two nights. To make a reservation, call 800-822-7768 or go to www.sethpeterson.org.
For more about the property, go to the website or call 608-254-6051,

Guided tours of the cottage are offered monthly. The next are 1-4 p.m. Nov. 13 and Dec. 11. Cost is $2.

The Louis Penfield House, near Cleveland, can sleep five people. The cost is $275 per night, two-night minimum.

Ceilings here are taller that most other Wright Usonian designs, because the first owner was 6-foot-8. The structure is not open for tours.

To learn more, go to www.penfieldhouse.com or call 440-942-9996.

In all cases, damage deposits of $100-500 are collected before any of the three Wright houses are rented. Prospective Two Rivers property renters also can expect to have a conversation with an owner, about why they want to stay at the property.