Imagine a warm summer night. Fresh breezes waft across the resort community of Lake Mahopac, New York. The creaking of cicadas and warbling of house finches fills the air. And you have the best seat in the neighborhood to take it all in: the cantilevered deck of a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in the middle of the tranquil lake. This is Petra (Petre) Island, home to not one but two houses designed by Wright, one of America’s most esteemed architects.
The 1,200-square-foot cottage and the 5,000-square-foot main residence are almost adjoining, separated by only 150 feet. There are seven bedrooms between the two, which sleep about 13 people, according to owner Joseph Massaro, who has lived there for more than 20 years. The original Wright cottage was built for engineer A.K. Chahroudi in 1949. When Massaro bought the island in 1996, he received the Wright drawings for the main house, and commissioned architect Thomas A. Heinz to complete the unfinished designs. The construction took place from 2003 to 2007, with contemporary updating, such as radiant floor heating, air-conditioning, ductwork, heat pumps, and a generator.
“It’s one of the most relaxing places you would ever want,” says Massaro, a retired sheet metal contractor, proudly. Massaro took great care to make sure that Wright’s vision for the main house – which Wright predicted would surpass his magnificently designed Fallingwater in Western Pennsylvania – would be followed down to the mahogany built-in furnishings. These intricate Wright-inspired details include the kitchen cabinets, bedroom bureaus, and library bookshelves. One of the built-ins even accommodates Massaro’s 70-inch TV as if it were designed for today’s flashy flat screens. “When the sun comes in, it never shines on the TV,” says Massaro, laughing, and acknowledging that Wright probably planned it as a movie viewing room and was skilled enough to avoid the sun’s rays in the design. “What a genius this guy was. When you’re by yourself [in the house] you notice all of the special little touches.”
Much like the waterfalls of Fallingwater, the Massaro house is built into the landscape with an outcropping of granite traversing the length of the house from the entranceway through the kitchen, bedrooms, the shower in a bathroom, and back out to the lake, to produce an impressive natural landscape. It’s even more impressive when you realize the rock is probably “half a billion years old,” according to Massaro. The house also boasts six fireplaces and 15-foot ceilings, which are unusual in a Wright-designed house. Other special architectural touches inside and out include a reflecting pond and scads of skylights.
The 11-acre, heart-shaped island, which is 50 miles from New York City, is wooded but complete with trails. The island’s hills rise about 100 feet off the lake. There is a helicopter pad for a 15-minute commute from the heart of the city, but it’s only five minutes by boat from the closest village of Lake Mahopac. The island is very manageable, according to Massaro, who has done all of his own maintenance of the land.
But even though Massaro is retiring full-time to Florida, he has mixed emotions about leaving this rural New York masterpiece. “There’s nothing like waking up in a Frank Lloyd Wright house,” he says, recalling the beautiful breezes which course through the home. “It’s an amazing feeling. I have many happy memories there. I will definitely miss it.”
Lake Mahopac, NY
Private Islands Inc.
647 477 5581