Architect-designed homes can be a difficult sell. Frank Lloyd Wright homes are often so specific to his aesthetic that modern life isn’t easy to live in one. Often these homes were originally in the boonies but have now become engulfed in a suburbia not architecturally up to the challenge. Wrap these together and you have a disparity between what people will pay and what the home is worth in the bigger picture.
Enter the Norman Lykes Home in Phoenix, Arizona, nicknamed the “Circular Sun House” which goes to auction on October 16 with no reserve. Before Heritage Auctions took on the home, it had been on the market since early 2018 where it started at $3.25 million, dropping to $2.65 million before the decision was made to auction the home.
The 3,095 square foot Lykes House was Wright’s last residential design before his death in April 1959. Wright apprentice architect John Rattenbury completed the drawings. Rattenbury returned in 1994 when the current owner wanted to renovate the home. Blessed by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, the renovations included reducing the bedroom count from five to three (enlarging the remaining rooms). The kitchen and three baths were also brought up to date and a workroom was converted to a small TV/media room.
It’s a seeming rarity that a Wright home is brought up to date for contemporary living – especially by the protégée who worked on the original design. The result is a home enveloped by Wright’s vision but livable for today – the 48-inch Sub Zero in the kitchen certainly wasn’t an option for Wright.
The Lykes home is also one of 14 Wright-designed circular homes that began with the circular V.C. Morris Gift Shop. The San Francisco structure was designed in 1949 and acted as a prototype for New York’s Guggenheim Museum. Dallas residents can see Wright’s circular phase expressed in the Kalita Humphreys Theater. At the far, bottom left, you can see the master bedroom prow balcony (more later).
The home’s location, bordering the Phoenix Mountains Preserve, ensures that it remains off the beaten track with few homes nearby. But it’s not in the boonies either, being a mile away from the Biltmore complex of its eponymous hotel and shopping center. It’s in an area that always attracted money with the Spanish-style William Wrigley mansion similarly adjacent to the Biltmore.
The home is located partway up a mountain and snugs itself unto the landscape. Because of the elevation and location, the home enjoys extraordinary views down the slope towards the evening lights of downtown Phoenix. Being a circular home, Wright designed circular furnishings, cabinets, and built-ins throughout. And while most would achieve a circular look by angling squares, Wright used bentwood to create true curves (mostly Philippine mahogany).
Imagine having to create the semi-circular stainless steel countertop in the redesigned kitchen? And surely it’s obvious a square island would have been a literal square peg in a round hole. In addition to the 48-inch Sub-Zero out of shot, that’s a Gaggenau wall oven on the right.
The half-moon windows seen in the kitchen meet their opposite in the second level office space located above the kitchen. Wright designed for how a space would be used. In that respect, the windows aren’t for those standing, but those sitting at the desk.
The master bedroom was one of the rooms that benefitted from the remodel in 1994. The enlarged space is full of light but with a cantilevered roofline that shades the space from the desert sun. The French doors lead to a small balcony shaped like a ship’s prow (insert “king of the world” reference here). When viewed from above, the balcony looks like a comma’s tail – it focuses your eye out to the view.
Remember the kitchen and office? You can see their opposing half-circle windows in the two-story tower space. Another semi-circle can be found in the swimming pool that’s tucked into the mountain. As you can see, the deck is plenty large enough to host memorable gatherings (with easy access to the kitchen).
In an era of glass walls and their resulting exposure, the luxury of privacy was embodied by Wright before privacy was a luxury. The home is not short on views but judiciously guards its occupants from prying eyes. In some respects, the home could feel intimidating from the outside were it not for its circular design. As it is, its circular nature inspires curiosity about when you might get invited inside.
While homes like this aren’t for the faint of wallet, they continue to inspire. On October 16, the Lykes House will inspire a new owner.
Remember: When I’m not stirring up trouble in Dallas, Texas or Honolulu, Hawaii for Candysdirt.com and SecondShelters.com, I’m off scouting interesting locations for a second home. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. If you’re a Realtor with second home clients who’d like me to feature their journey, shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.