Thank You, Frank Lloyd Wright

The house’s most remarkable features are the flat roof and curved kitchen. My grandfather had nothing to do with either. In the late 50s Nelson Gowan bought a farm right smack on the American border and moved himself and my grandmother down there in the exact middle of nowhere, leaving the farm to his two boys and the house to his youngest and most recently married son, Joe, who immediately began planning major renovations.

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My grandfather’s design had a traditional peaked roof, but my father had seen photographs of the buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright and was struck by the genius of Wright’s insight that a prairie home, given the lack of moisture in the Western climate and the wind that blew incessantly, sweeping any accumulation of snow away, had no need for a peaked roof. Those redundant peaks were nothing more than a waste of space and materials: an inheritance imported from the oppressively damp and moulding East. So Dad cut the peak right off the building and added a full second storey, making its lines horizontal like the surrounding prairie landscape.

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I’m not sure if he got the idea for the kitchen from Wright. It wasn’t really a characteristic of the prairie style home, but you can certainly find curves in Wright’s buildings: The Guggenheim, for example. Dad went with his family to the World’s Fair in New York City in 1940, but The Guggenheim wasn’t completed until 1959 so that wouldn’t explain his inspiration. On the other hand, 1959 was about the time Dad was building the kitchen, and perhaps he saw photos of The Guggenheim in a magazine. Maybe not. Maybe it would be a bit grandiose for me to claim the house was influenced by The Guggenheim.

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Still, it was an ambitious undertaking. Dad wanted the horizontal cedar siding to match the rest of the house, but in order to curve the siding around his turret of a kitchen he had to custom-make each piece like a smile that went flat when shaped to the curved surface. Stucco would have been much simpler, but Dad had a thing for cedar siding, either vertical or horizontal. He used it on all his buildings, including the wooden grain bins. Except the barn. And even the barn was painted to match the palette of the rest of the buildings on the farm: a strip of reddish brown about four feet, topped by a strip of white about four feet, the same pattern repeated on the second storey. The colours were chosen to match his herd of Hereford cattle.

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