Thursday, February 23, 2017

Russel Wright: Manitoga House

Construction at designer Russel Wright's home, "Manitoga," started in 1957 and Russel and his wife, Ann, moved in in 1961, though the design was never truly finished. Nicknamed "Dragon Rock" by Ann, due to the massive granite stone across the quarry pond, the home became a testing ground for Wright to learn how to merge the manmade with the natural. 

Material experiments were the norm: He embedded pressed butterflies and ferns from the property into sliding glass panels in the bathroom, and covered another door covered in birch bark on one side and Formica on the other. One ceiling was covered in green epoxy embedded with white pine needles. His studio (which still contains a vintage pack of Salems sitting on his Formica desk) was illuminated by an early example of fluorescent lighting, covered in burlap strung up on fishing line to reduce the light's harsh glare. Not every idea was a roaring success (the ceiling above the main hallway was covered in styrofoam, for example) but they all informed Wright's continued experimentation.

Built into granite, the multi-leveled, rock-covered home and studio didn't seem built as much as they were shaped and carved. Ever the set designer, Wright was determined to control lighting, sound, and color, starting with the grounds. He meticulously tended the paths surrounding the structure, rearranging trees and even stones. He didn't believe anyone could cut stone as finely as nature, and neighbors remember him hiring them to help move the massive pieces of granite around the yard. The granite on which the home sits rises like a rim around the quarry pool in the center of the site, with hills and rings of paths moving further up the rising terrain. When guests arrived at the house's carport, Wright would bring them toward a curtain of vines covering the adjacent pergola, then sweep it open, providing a dramatic entrance and view of the grounds.

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