An Architect Abandons the Box
Matt Schlueb of Pennsylvania builds a unique house for himself and his family.
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When employees think "outside the box," they're applauded for coming up with unconventional ideas and business strategies.
But when an architect abandons the box that has been the basic building block of Western architecture for thousands of years, he's pretty much on his own.
Matt Schlueb doesn't mind inhabiting that territory, and the house he built for himself and his family reflects it. Whether you think it looks like a cluster of Tupperware containers, something out of The Jetsons or a fairy-tale cottage, you've got to admit Villa Vuoto is unique.
"I wanted to build a house that didn't have any right angles," he said. "My two pet peeves are the color white and 'the box.' "
You'd have trouble finding either one in the 2,400-square-foot house Schlueb just finished building on a wooded hillside lot in a Franklin Park, Pa., development. He and his wife, Julianne, and young son, Oskar, moved after 2 1/2 years of construction.
Instead of a box, the house is based on circular and conical forms (minus the point), shapes favored by the Adena Indians who populated the Ohio Valley 2,000 years ago. The windows are round, the walls curved, the ceilings sloped. Even the doors and doorways are asymmetrical.
And the colors? White would feel out of place in the bold palette used inside and out. All were selected by Julianne Schlueb except the dark green trim, dictated by the limited colors available on the stock Andersen windows.
The textured exterior walls are two shades of gold broken up by sections of brick red and a red tile roof. The dark green extends from the round window trim to the eaves, exposed rafters and chimney.
Inside, the gold is repeated in the kitchen, but the rest of the wide-open first floor is deep purple. The purple continues upstairs, following an oak and wrought-iron spiral staircase, to reach three bedrooms that are shades of blue, red and green. The two full baths and a walk-in closet are blue, yellow and aqua, respectively.
"I've always been interested in abstract art, bold colors and texture," said Julianne, who grew up in Franklin Park. "And purple and yellow are my favorite colors."
"People react to the color more than the design," said her husband.
Schlueb, who was both architect and general contractor on his home, worked first as an architect in New York and then for five years in Los Angeles, where he specialized in Modern-style, high-end homes.
"I wanted to challenge myself to do a similar house here on smaller scale," he said.
Many of those multimillion-dollar southern California homes incorporated stucco, a plaster-like material used for centuries in home styles as varied as Tudor, Colonial, Mission and Mediterranean. When he began planning his dream home, Schlueb decided to go with synthetic stucco, a lighter, more flexible material used most often in commercial construction.
In the end, Schlueb used both synthetic and conventional stucco from Senergy. His house recently won first place in the residential category of a design competition sponsored by the National One Coat Stucco Association.
Andy Imro of Insulright by U.S. Spray Systems, the project's Icynene insulation contractor, and other subcontractors said they were drawn to the house by the challenges it posed. Many had worked with Schlueb on projects on which he worked as a consultant. In his free time, Schlueb spent three or four months working out his house's design by creating a scale model with tiny sticks to represent its studs and post-and-beam frame. Drawings came later.
"Matt asked if I was interested and I said 'yes,' " recalled framing carpenter Bill Valesky of Valesky Homes in Greensburg, Pa. "He pulled this model out of the back of his truck. I knew it wasn't a joke -- he looked serious."
Although some contractors took one look and were never heard from again, Schlueb was pleasantly surprised at how many put in bids on the job.
"I wanted contractors who were willing to take a chance," he said. "The ones who were eager and wanted a challenge got the work."
One key contractor was Harry Stites of Steel City Plastering in West Deer. Crews ranging from four to eight men worked almost a year on the exterior stucco and interior plaster.
"We used all of our tricks on this job," said Stites, who works with his son, also named Harry. "We can hold our heads up high on this one. I'm proud as hell of our work."
(Kevin Kirkland writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)
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