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On this week's Peace of History:
We take a look at the Swann House, named for Bob Swann who designed and built the building. As a builder for Frank Lloyd Wright, Bob worked on Wright’s “Usonian” affordable homes around Kalamazoo, Michigan. “Usonia” was Wright’s word for his particular utopian vision for a new beautiful, ethical, middle-class lifestyle in the United States -- shaped in large part by his simple but bespoke homes. Inspired by the renowned architect, Bob tried his own experiments in making beautiful, affordable housing. The Swann House, built with volunteer labor and materials totaling just $3000, is one such example.
Fans of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Usonian” affordable homes might recognize familiar features in the the Swann House. Nestled into a small slope and facing the dense woods just a few yards away, the Swann House sits back beyond the VPT Farmhouse and a little west of the A.J. Muste Conference Center. Vertical panel windows run across the front of the Swann House, as do some trapezoidal windows at the peaks of the asymmetrical cathedral ceilings. From the surprisingly spacious and simply decorated interior of the house, one experiences a strong sense of nature’s fecundity surrounding and enveloping the home as vibrant woodland colors spill through the dark framed windows. Especially during autumn in New England, arbors both young and ancient fill the view from the front windows, and the tops of the tallest surrounding trees peak through the upper windows.
Wright fans may also notice, however, where Bob diverged from strictly Wrightian principles. For example, while one of Wright’s principles for designing Usonian homes was to unify the inside and outside spaces in a single, continuous aesthetic, the Swann House makes greater use of contrast, inviting in the naturalistic qualities from the outside to stand in majestic variance to the vast interior white wash walls and stained wood paneling. However, the most obvious stylistic divergence may be that the Swann House lacks the radical horizontalism of Wright’s homes, instead using both horizontally and vertically oriented wooden boards as well as a more classically steep-pitched roof. The steeper pitch of the roof allowed for another feature rarely seen in Wright’s single-story Usonian homes: a loft. Despite the vertical positioning of this room, the Swann House (like Wright’s Usonian homes) has a largely open and spacious plan, and the inclusion of the loft proved to be a clever use of space for two bedrooms without taking away from the minimalist grandeur of the main room.
Recently, we here at VPT have been renovating this upper loft area in order to better comply with fire codes, to respond to changes in how we use the space, and to have the house better fit with the land. The loft will now be divided into two rooms, both with access to a new back deck. As the back of the house is partially set into a slope, the deck and accompanying ramp will bridge the small gap between the top of the slope and the house itself, giving the two loft rooms a safer "ground floor" point of egress, and generally providing greater accessibility. These changes are being added in such a way as to improve the house's aesthetic cohesion with the shape of the land while still maintaining the original spirit of the structure.
These recent renovations have not been cheap, and we are currently raising money to pay for this project. If you can give a donation, you may do so at the following link: https://www.givelify.com/givenow/1.0/MjE5OTY=/selection. Also, if you are a Charter Oak Credit Union member, Charter Oak will match every $25 you donate to us -- all you have to do is fill out the following form and send it to us: https://charteroak.org/content/matching-gifts/
Next week, we will return to the very beginnings of the Voluntown Peace Trust, starting with the Committee for Non Violent Action (CNVA) and some of the diverse founding members that Bob and Marj Swann helped onboard.