Tirranna/Rayward House


Frank Lloyd Wright


1956


Description

Tirranna/Rayward House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is located on a large, hilly, forested site. The Noroton River runs through the property. According to the current owners, Wright dammed the section of the river next to the house site to create a pond and waterfalls.

The one-story, flat-roofed house is constructed of concrete block with Philippine mahogany trim, doors, windows, and soffits. The plan of the main part of the house is essentially semicircular with an enclosed rectangular courtyard. Attached to the house is the former carport (now a porch) and former staff quarters (now guest quarters), a long, curving pergola, staff quarters with an attached greenhouse, and a large carport. The rear of the house overlooks the view of the pond, which features a dramatic fountain added in the late 1960s. On an island in the pond is a two-story concrete playhouse that originally contained a Chinese smoke oven.

According to Allan Gelbin, who acted as the contractor during construction, the original house was constructed of 8-inch concrete block with Philippine mahogany trim and a roof clad in 5-ply built-up tar and gravel. The glass in the house was 1/4" polished plate glass. The floors were poured concrete "topped with red coloratum, terracotta, and sealed with the W.R. Grace sealer that was typical in Mr. Wright's houses, unit lines being scored in" (Gelbin, 4). The ceilings were 1/4" plywood overlaid with mahogany in a checkerboard pattern placed in alternating grain patterns. The original furniture was custom-built for the house.


Significance

Tirranna/Rayward House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for John L. Rayward, his wife Joyce, and their two daughters, Jennifer and Victoria. Rayward was originally from Australia and worked as a paper broker. The name of the house, "Tirranna," is an Aboriginal word for "running waters."

John L. Rayward acquired the property in 1955 and construction began that same year. Architect Allan Gelbin, then studying for his architectural exams, acted as contractor and master-of-the-works. He had previously built three Wright houses in Ohio: Rubin House, Dobkins House, and Feiman House. According to Gelbin, Rayward insisted on using cheap, non-union labor, making it difficult to find qualified subcontractors, but Gelbin eventually hired Alfred Eliasson as carpenter-foreman; Eliasson had acted as contractor on Wright's Sanders House in Stamford. The doors and windows were custom-made by Ben Mollo, and the built-in furniture was also made by either Eliasson or Mollo. The house was completed in 1956 for about $180,000, not including the architect's fee, land, or interior work aside from the built-in furniture (Gelbin, 1990).

Originally, the project included a one-story house and a three-car garage with an attached storage space, but Rayward--notoriously difficult to work with--made several changes during construction. In 1956, Rayward requested that a swimming pool overlooking the pond and a master bedroom wing with a two-story observatory be added to the project, creating an L-shaped wing off of the elliptical main structure. Gelbin left the project around 1956, but by 1959, other changes had been made, including construction of a curved pergola connecting the house to the garage, completion of the dam and fish-ladder, the addition of servants' quarters in the carport area adjacent to the house, and construction of a playhouse in the pond. Most or all of this work was apparently completed by contractor Alfred Eliasson.

In 1963, the property was acquired by Mid Continent Properties Inc. In 1964, Herman R. Shepherd et. al. purchased the house. Between 1964 and 1967, major renovations to the property were undertaken by Taliesin Associated Architects. It appears that architect John de Koven Hill designed the additions with assistance from architect William Wesley Peters (Wright's son-in-law). Gelbin acted as supervisor on the project and the contractor was Tom Riordan of Norwalk. Work included an addition containing a new entry and a family room attached to the L-shaped wing, creating an enclosed courtyard, expansion of the master bedroom and bath, converting the garage storage space to staff quarters and adding a new attached greenhouse, constructing a new carport, and construction of a steel-framed terrace off of the swimming pool. Tennis courts were also added at this time. New landscaping was designed by landscape architects Charles Middeleer and Frank Masao Okamura. This work included installation of a curved bridge, stepping stones, a dramatic fountain in the pond, and new paths. The remodeled house was included in the 1967 Modern House Tour in New Canaan.

In 1980, the property was acquired by Ranko Santric. The Shepherds took much of the custom-built furnishings with them when they moved. In 1992, it was acquired by Vada S. Stanley. The Stanleys completed an extensive restoration of the house and landscape between 1992 and 1996. John de Koven Hill consulted on the project and the work was completed by interior designer Ronald Bricke and landscape architects Heritage Landscape. The primary work involved repairing or replacing the Philippine mahogany in kind and interior alterations.


National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2009.