You may have heard about it. You may have seen it from the water. Or you may have even been fortunate enough to experience it on a house tour. But for many Hampton Roads residents, Virginia Beach’s famed Frank Lloyd Wright House aka The Cooke House—one of only three in Virginia designed by the famous contrarian—may remain elusive.
Not visible from the street, the legendary house is only accessible via a curving, bamboo-bordered private drive at the end of 51st Street. As you pull up in front of this long, lean drink of water, you may find yourself blinking in disbelief at the appearance of this beach-home-like-no-other designed by the foremost architect of the 20th century.
Since Wright is known for integrating his structures into their natural environments, it would be blasphemous to suggest that this home seems out of place. But the hemicycle domicile on the shore of Crystal Lake, a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean, certainly bears no resemblance to area beach houses, varied though they may be.
After hearing Wright speak at the Chrysler Museum, Maude Cooke sent him in 1951 the first of many letters over the ensuing years, commissioning a house suitable for hosting parties. Construction was begun in 1959 on this ground-hugging home with its bold angles, deep and assertive overhangs pierced with daring geometric skylights, slim and striking golden brick, handsome cypress trim, tiered verdigris copper roof and Wright’s signature rich neutralized “Cherokee Red” concrete steps and terrace. All of these features and a certain je ne sais quoi add up to a home with unmistakable architectural gravitas.
The home was completed just two weeks prior to Wright’s death. Maude, husband Andrew and the couple’s three children moved into their new home in 1960, having blown past their original $40,000 budget four times over. There they lived for 23 years until the current owners, Daniel and Jane Duhl—a textile engineer and early childcare expert, respectively—, purchased the historical landmark in 1983. The new owners hired Bill Pace to perform much-needed restoration, including removing carpeting and linoleum and supplementing the passive cooling system with central air conditioning.
At only 3,000 square feet, this four-bedroom wonder is somewhat small by today’s waterfront standards. But here size doesn’t matter. The main living space and master bedroom/bath forms one-quarter of a circle overlooking a quarter-circle wedge-shaped terrace (originally designed to be a pool) and the lake.
A long wing extends east at an oblique angle, accommodating two bedrooms, a triangular bath, a double carport and diminutive staff quarters consisting of a bedroom and full bath.
Outdoor living is enhanced by a 14-foot swim spa and a bunker-style exercise room and sauna built into the dune.
Commanding attention upon entering the home is the curving, 70-foot, glass-lined great room with its sweeping views of the lake, vaulted ceilings, recessed lighting and 15-section built-in “sofa” extending for 40 feet and terminating at a built-in entertainment center.
The red concrete from the front entrance extends through the interior, where it is heated, and onto the terrace. An imposing two-sided fireplace subtlety separates the living space from the dining area, which is situated immediately in front of the semi-open kitchen.
More of the golden brick and deep horizontal cypress paneling separated by wide walnut strips emphasizes the longitudinal orientation of the design. Save a few chairs and the master bed, Wright designed all of the furniture in the home, including three low coffee tables and a dozen cubic ottomans in the great room as well as the dining table. His extensive built-ins encompass desks, shelves, ledges and flexible storage. Lining the north wall of the wing is a long expanse of chin-height storage with pull-outs for hanging clothes and display space above. Art, mostly from the Duhls’ travels or created by family members, is largely global, sculptural and organic.
A marvel of curves and tightly-integrated acute and oblique angles, this serene and handsome structure is at once at home on the shores of Crystal Lake and a world apart.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Beach House is available for purchase. Visit FLWrightBeachHouse.com to learn more.