Around the country, for-sale and open-house signs are popping up like flowers in spring. But there’s one architectural gem on the market in a St. Louis suburb that needs no such sign in front to draw attention. It’s a rare Frank Lloyd Wright home designed by the renowned architect, and it recently was listed for $1.2 million, furniture included.
The 2,310-square-foot Usonian Automatic-style house is set back from the road on about 3 acres of wooded, rolling hills in Town and Country, Missouri. Though the four-bedroom, two-bath house was designed by Wright in 1955 for Theodore and Bette Pappas, the original and only owners, construction did not begin until 1960. The single-story house, which is one of only two Frank Lloyd Wright homes in St. Louis, was completed in 1964, at which time the couple moved in with their four children. The home cost four times more than they originally planned to spend. Theodore died in 2004 and Bette in February 2018. Their surviving children have decided to sell the family home.
Wright’s Usonian houses proved that affordability and outstanding architecture could go hand in hand. To maximize efficiency, floor plans had no attics or basements. The design elements of the Pappas home reflect Wright’s interest in simplicity, connection to the land and efficiency.
Listing agent Ted Wight of Dielmann Sotheby’s International Realty in St. Louis recognizes the home’s significance as an important part of Town and Country’s heritage. He is hoping a preservation-minded buyer will own the house.
“It’s ideal for somebody who has a passion for architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright and who really wants to live in a rare gem,” says Wight, who is Sotheby’s mid-century contemporary home specialist in the St. Louis housing market.
The house, which has three roof levels, is built of pre-cast, terra-cotta-tinted concrete blocks formed on a 2-foot module. The living room blends a concrete floor in Cherokee red, Wright’s favorite color, with Philippine mahogany furniture that he designed. The terrace off the living room, with floor-to-ceiling glass double doors, has glass insets, mitered at the corners for a grille of concrete and glass. More than 500 glass insets are in the structure.
The spacious living/dining room area with a fireplace is the focal point of the house and merges with the foyer. Wright designed the dining table and chairs, which are made of Philippine mahogany. To the left of the fireplace and foyer is the main entry.
Changes in floor level as well as different ceiling planes add visual interest in the house. The home’s concrete floors have a square scoring. The four bedrooms have walls paneled in Philippine mahogany, ceilings of concrete textile blocks and built-in furniture. Coffered blocks are exposed on the interior walls of the house.
The kitchen ushers in plenty of natural light. Its 12.5-foot ceiling rises above the surrounding roofs to take in light through clerestory windows. The furniture alone is valued at more than $200,000.
Andrew Dielmann, owner and president of Dielmann Sotheby’s International Realty, acknowledges Wright’s design may not suit everyone’s tastes.
“You have to like the Frank Lloyd Wright look, the floor plan, just the way he built things,” he says. “It’s not like a brand new house today where everything is big closets, big kitchens, big bathrooms. You just have to really appreciate his architecture, and luckily, there are a lot of people out there who do.”
Indeed, the home has generated quite a buzz since going on the market last week, says Dielmann. “It’s amazing. Not just local interest, but regional and national interest.”
Although the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Wight says a new owner could make changes, albeit “gentle changes to keep with the spirit of the house.”
He explains, “There are some organizations that have been trying to rally support to maybe purchase the house and turn it into a house museum. But that has not come to fruition yet. It doesn’t mean it’s off the table, but it takes a serious amount of money to buy the house, but also to maintain it and preserve it.”
The new owners will not have to receive the blessing of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation to make alterations. However, Wight said, “You could lose your designation on the National Register of Historic Places if you lose the integrity of the home through renovations.”
Most states, such as Missouri, administer historic preservation grant or loan programs, which Wight said could be an option for potential buyers.
Don’t count on the real estate agency hosting a Sunday afternoon open house with chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. In addition to general wear and tear, it’s not uncommon for homes to be damaged or valuable items to be stolen during showings. And with this being a Wright house, the listing agency is being extra vigilant in ensuring this storied home not become an unofficial tourist attraction for a flurry of gawkers. Prospective buyers will have to undergo a rigorous prequalification process to be approved for showings.
Wight says the heirs to the home insisted that his agency be selective of who views it.
“We want to make sure that they are qualified buyers and not just people who are curious to see the house,” he said. “This is a rare opportunity. It’s a dynamic house. It’s something that we feel the right person is going to step up and purchase it and love it and live in it and be the second owner.”