Often referred to as "The House with the Tree," this may be the most widely recognized home in Cleveland Heights. It was designed by Cleveland architect Albert J. Sgro in 1954, with the clear intention of emulating and enhancing the "Usonian" design made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright. The term Usonian has come to be associated with Wright's architectural style—single-story brick homes with open floor plans—but it actually reflects Wright's view that cultures and individuals should evolve integrally from their core or roots . . . "out of the ground and into the light."
This philosophy is evident throughout the home, with features such as recessed lighting, exceptionally large windows, and a general sense that the inside and outside are not separate entities. As one walks through the house, for example, it becomes clear that sightlines are constantly focused on the outside—There is almost no direction one can face that does not take in an outside view. In addition, redwood and brick are used as inside and outside materials. And of course there is the famous Pin Oak tree, which appears to be growing out of the house but actually resides in a charming private garden that is visible from the living room and accessible from one of the house's two master bedroom suites.
Nevertheless, the owners believe that Wright might not approve of the home, given its suburban (and therefore "visually compromised") location. It also is likely that Wright would have used less plaster, and he might have pushed for lower ceilings.
What the home embodies, therefore, is the incredible sense of peace and conformance with nature that were Wright's hallmarks combined with a degree of livability and practicality that often were missing in Wright's designs. These qualities figured prominently in the recent decision to designate the home as Cleveland Heights' 44th "City Landmark."
Throughout its nearly 50 years, the house has been well maintained (the original owners lived there until 1994). Since the current residents moved in, a rock garden has been added to the patio area, and additional plantings now adorn the driveway and park-like backyard. Inside, new appliances have been installed, although the basic kitchen layout and cabinetry are original. And instead of the South Sea Island motif used by the first occupants, the current design is far less "theme-intensive." In fact, the present owners—several of whom are artists—designed and built many of the accoutrements, including the coffee tables, the dining room set, a living room lamp and a wooden chair.
· Mortar on the outside brickwork: It is indented horizontally but is flush vertically, thereby enhancing the horizontal character of the house.
· A "floating fireplace" (supported by huge steel beams embedded in the ceiling) in the center of the living room.
· The inside/outside relationship of materials; for example, the outside brick planter at the front entrance appears to move through the wall into the home.
· "Wright-designed" glasswork hanging by the window of the front door.
· The mask collection mounted on the side of the fireplace, acquired from spots around the world.
· Highly focused, low-level lighting that directs light to specific work surfaces and sitting areas.