Frank Lloyd Wright’s Island Design - Inquire for PriceBy Private Islands Magazine • Oct 28th, 2010 • Category: Islands for Sale
By LoAnn Halden - Photos by David Allee
Looking down at the Massaro House cantilevering over Lake Mahopac from its Petra Island perch is like observing an elegant water bird that’s comfortably earthbound but prepared to soar in an instant. It’s the kind of organic design that could only have sprung from one mind. Nearly 60 years after legendary American architect Frank Lloyd Wright created the home’s original sketches, Putnam County, N.Y. resident Joseph Massaro has allowed that vision to take flight.
The story begins at the dawn of the 1950s, when an engineer named A.K. Chahroudi tracked down Wright to design a home on Petra Island, about 40 miles north of Manhattan. Wright’s lofty plans surpassed Chahroudi’s budget and he convinced Wright to design a smaller cottage instead.
Enter Joseph Massaro, who bought 11-acre Petra Island in 1991. A native of New York State, he grew up 30 miles south of Lake Mahopac and spent summers waterskiing there as a teenager. He eventually settled in the lakeside community with his own family. Although Massaro knew of the abandoned plans for the main house, he only intended to restore the island’s 1,200-square-foot cottage – “a beautiful building: three bedrooms, all redwood, stone and concrete,” he says.
But the heart-shaped island quickly became his beloved weekend retreat. “It’s incredible. It rises over 100 feet off the crystal-clear water. It’s a spring-fed lake and it’s so peaceful. I can’t come out here without taking a walk on the trail around the island.”
In 2000, Massaro sold his successful heating/air-conditioning business and needed “a project” to engage his Type A personality. His thoughts turned to Wright’s plans for the larger house. “I wasn’t a Wright fan before, but the more I lived in the cottage on weekends, the more things I noticed – the spans on the roof, the way every inch of the place was used,” Massaro says. “He was a genius.”
After negotiations over the plans with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation failed to reach fruition, Massaro hired eminent Wright scholar and architect Thomas A. Heinz to oversee the four-year construction. “It’s 5,000 square feet, one level; it’s all open architecture, and it’s just so comfortable,” he marvels. “It’s all African mahogany, the floors are red concrete, the furniture was designed by Wright – it has all built-in furniture. Each room is unique. I was concerned the three back bedrooms were going to be small, but I left it the way it was intended and they’re just so perfect.”
Wright himself called the master bedroom’s design “an island within the island” because it’s completely removed from the other bedrooms and juts over the water. Like Wright’s greatest works, the house not only complements the landscape, it melds with it. The rock incorporated in the design came from Petra Island and winds from the terrace through a dining room wall, into one of the three bathrooms as part of the shower and ends in one of the back bedrooms. A soaring entryway capped with 26 skylights illuminates the natural beauty. It’s the kind of house that requires seeing to believe.
“We built this house exactly to Wright’s specifications,” Massaro says. “It’s located on the exact spot that he picked.” The Massaro House, as it’s known, also has six working fireplaces and the full range of modern conveniences from radiant heat in the floors to security cameras. A non-Wright house on the island was converted to an artist’s studio and workshop. There’s even an FAA-approved helipad. “You can be on your own island in 15 minutes from New York City and have complete privacy,” Massaro says. “It’s really a full compound out here.”
Scholarly debate has raged over whether the house is truly Wright, but Massaro has no doubts. “Walter Cronkite came out to see this island about a year before he passed away. The house was under construction and he knew Frank Lloyd Wright personally,” Massaro says. “He walked in and turned to me and said, ‘I feel Frank in this house.’ “
Would Massaro ever part with his Petra Island masterpiece? “If the right person came along,” he says. “I put my heart and soul into this, but I’m spending more time in Florida now. I’m thinking of building a Frank Lloyd Wright house that he designed for the ocean.”
Because after you’ve lived under a Wright roof, anything else would just feel wrong.
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