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Frank Lloyd Wright's Willey House: Small, Affordable and Green

3/28/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: Frank Lloyd Wright, Willey House, Minneapolis, Minnesota, historic homes, brick

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailTo celebrate the 100th anniversary of Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Art Museum is featuring more than 150 objects designed by the legendary architect in “Frank Lloyd Wright: Organic Architecture for the 21st Century,” through May 15. Whether or not you can make it to Milwaukee, you can learn a lot about the iconic architect from the houses he built. One of my favorites is the Malcolm Willey House in Minneapolis, built by Nancy Willey in 1934 and restored to perfection by Steve Sikora and Lynette Erickson-Sikora.

The 1,350-square-foot house was abandoned and dilapidated when Lynette and Steve bought it in 2002. Previous remodels had left scars, including a kitchen filled with pumpkin-colored plastic laminate and coppertone appliances. The couple spent nearly six years painstakingly rebuilding the home—the first small, affordable home that Wright designed, which became a prototype for his later Usonian houses, unornamented, distinctly American houses that were affordable for the masses. In the process, Steve and Lynette came to deeply understand Wright’s genius, including his use of natural, indigenous materials.

Wright constructed the home using red tidewater cypress, which is not local but was durable enough to sustain the house through its years of abandonment. “If it hadn’t been built of cypress, it wouldn’t be standing now,” Steve says.

willey exterior 

Built in 1934 for Malcolm and Nancy WIlley, this Minneapolis home was restored in 2007 using cypress, plaster and regional brick. The shade provided by four mature burr oaks cools the house. Photo by Terrence Moore 

 willey homeowners 

Homeowners Steve Sikora and Lynette Erickson-Sikora listen to granddaughter Paige Norris on guitar. Photo by Terrence Moore 

 willey office 

The study with built-in desk, shelving and sleeping couch opens to the south side of the yard. Photo by Terrence Moore 

willey kitchen 

The fully functional vintage appliances demonstrate the relative simplicity of 1930s life. Photo by Terrence Moore 

 willey dining 

A plate-glass window separates the kitchen from the living/dining room. The moveable dining table integrates with the built-in cabinetry; its placement defines the dining area. Photo by Terrence Moore 

 willey living 

A wall of French doors—a pioneering feature in 1934--opens to join the living room to the garden, creating an airy, parklike pavilion. Photo by Terrence Moore 

 willey fireplace 

The uncontained fireplace feels like an indoor bonfire. Photo by Terrence Moore 

 willey bath 

The restored bathroom features plaster walls and a built-in vanity. Photo by Terrence Moore 

 willey bedroom 

The master bedroom's corner windows swing out, spacially expanding the room. Photo by Terrence Moore 



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