'Growing Up in a Frank Lloyd Wright House' | March 22, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |


Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - March 22, 2013

'Growing Up in a Frank Lloyd Wright House'

Author to share joys and pitfalls of living in the masterpiece

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Kim Bixler knew even at age 8 that she lived in a special house. Architects, photographers and fans of Frank Lloyd Wright were continually knocking on the front door asking for tours.

From 1977-94, her parents, Burt and Karen Brown, owned a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1908 for Edward and Beulah Boynton in Rochester, N.Y.

"When we first moved to Rochester my mother told the Realtor, '`I want unusual and contemporary,'" Bixler recalled.

They moved into a low, flat house with a back wall composed entirely of windows overlooking a swimming pool, and Kim and her younger brother Kurt settled into school. Then her mother found out there was a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Rochester.

"It was written in the paper as kind of a rumor," Bixler said.

The Realtor located the home and arranged a tour in the afternoon while the owners were out.

"They were so excited after they saw it that they drove back," Bixler remembered.

She also explained that her father liked unusual cars; he was driving a 1954 Bentley when the couple parked in front of the house later that day to sit staring at it and daydreaming.

"The people came outside and said, 'What are you doing?' That's how they met them," Bixler said.

It so happened that the owners were tired of the home's costly maintenance and were ready to move.

"They bought our house and we bought theirs," Bixler recalled.

They also used the same moving van, which traveled back and forth switching out the occupants' belongings.

Wright's prairie-style house in Rochester is considered one of his most stunning. The architect himself was on site during much of its construction. He also designed much of the furniture, and 17 pieces remain in the home.

Bixler said living in the house influenced her own design aesthetic.

"Despite its size, the house was cozy. Sunlight from the stained glass windows would cast patterns along the walls, floor and furniture. The house was a work of art."

Her mother, a jewelry designer, opened her studio in one of the basement rooms, which had served as servants' quarters for the Boyntons. Many of her pieces were inspired by the house.

"It was strange as a child -- friends would come over thinking, 'Wow you're so rich,'" Bixer said. "But my mom and dad did a good job of making us feel like it was a home."

The house was always a draw for friends because it was so inviting, she added.

"We lived a normal life, with a twist. Cars were always slowing down as they passed the house, people knocked on the door begging for a tour, students often sketched the house and some of my friends became architects and artists because of the experience," Bixler recalled.

"When I was in the fourth grade, Craig Claiborne, who wrote for the New York Times, came to our house. A cookbook editor asked if my parents would host him at dinner and if they could spend the weekend. Mom said, 'You're welcome to stay but I'm not cooking.'"

So Claiborne cooked a gourmet meal for all of them and served it in the celebrated dining room. Kim asked Claiborne if he was famous, and he replied that he had written many books.

"Can I do my fourth-grade report on you?" she asked.

Bixler is full of lively stories, which she shares in her book, "Growing Up in a Frank Lloyd House." She is making a multi-media presentation on the joys and pitfalls of living in the celebrated home, at the Pleasanton library Monday evening.

She currently lives in Manhattan Beach with her husband Tim, daughter Kendall, 15, and son Robert, 13, but the family was in Pleasanton from 2004-08 and the children attended Vintage Hills Elementary.

Bixler began writing her story when she was a young woman, jotting down notes while driving several hundred miles to a friend's bridal shower. Then she put it aside for years until 2009, when she was recovering from knee surgery. She heard the Boynton house for sale, which renewed her interest in the project.

"Stuck in bed, I started reformulating my stories into a book and then gave copies to my parents and a few friends," she recalled. "Several months later I received a call from producer Todd McCammon at WXXI, Rochester's public television station. He told me that he read my book and that he was working on a documentary about the new owners, and their planned restoration of the house, and wanted to interview me for the production."

Suddenly she had a deadline for the book, to tie it in with the release of the PBS documentary, which will air in the fall. "Frank Lloyd Wright's Boynton House: The Next Hundred Years" includes an interview with Bixler and her mother, and has details about the home's structural repair, the unexpected insect infestation, the restoration of the 253 art glass panels, and much more.

"The book evolved over the next year," Bixler recalled. "I went back to Rochester several times and began researching Wright and historical documents; this led me to interview everyone who had ever lived in the house. This is when the book started to get interesting."

Now, with her multimedia presentation, she is once more guiding people through the house and its history.

"I started giving tours when I was 8 years old. Imagine this little kid in pigtails discussing the lines of the house, the symmetry of the leaded glass windows in relation to the matching light fixtures and Wright's use of space and lighting. Architecture students would listen with rapt attention as I read my mom's carefully printed notecards," she said.

"When I talk about the house, I feel like that kid in pigtails again."

The Wright way


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