The Pennsylvania Resort Where You Can Rent a Frank Lloyd Wright House

PunkToad, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
PunkToad, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Eighteen years ago, Thomas and Heather Papinchak purchased a home near Acme, Pennsylvania, as a quiet retreat in the woods. They didn’t know that just a half-mile away were two underappreciated houses with an incredible design legacy: They were built by Frank Lloyd Wright's protégé Peter Berndtson in Wright’s signature Usonian style. Thomas Papinchak, a building contractor, only discovered the homes when some college students threw a rowdy party there and the noise caught his attention.

The couple were already fans of Wright’s iconic architecture, and when the two houses were offered for sale three years later, the Papinchaks snapped them up. That marked the beginning of Polymath Park, a resort where guests can book overnight stays in not just these two houses, but two more designed by Wright himself that have been moved to the southwestern Pennsylvania property.

A USONIAN OASIS

In the 1960s, two prominent Pittsburgh families, the Blums and the Balters, were looking to build summer homes near each other about 40 miles outside the city. Harry Blum was a partner in his family’s metalworking company, Blumcraft of Pittsburgh; James Balter was president of the Morris Paper Company, a leading Pittsburgh firm started by his father. Both were members of the same social circle as Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann, who had commissioned Wright to design his most famous residential work, Fallingwater, in nearby Mill Run, Pennsylvania. The Blums and Balters wanted their houses built in Wright’s style, but the architect had died in 1959—so they turned to Berndtson, who trained under Wright at the Taliesin school in Wisconsin.

Berndtson designed homes for Blum and Balter using Wright’s Usonian design elements, like red concrete floors, horizontal profiles, and an indoor-outdoor plan connecting the structures to the surrounding landscape. He also wanted to build 24 similar houses on the land, creating an entire community in the Usonian style. The two families, however, preferred their privacy and put a stop to Berndtson’s effort.

The interior of Balter House in Polymath ParkCourtesy of Polymath Park

The families used their summer retreats for two decades, but sold them in the 1980s to owners who occasionally rented them out—like to the college students who “helped" the Papinchaks discover them. “I was in complete shock when the Balter and Blum houses went on the market” in 2003, Papinchak tells Mental Floss. After buying the homes and their massive lots, the couple decided to keep the previous owners’ name for the property: Polymath Park.

THE DUNCAN HOUSE ARRIVES

While the couple restored the homes, another Frank Lloyd Wright house was on its way to the neighborhood.

In 2004, a group of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, residents had bought the Duncan House, a single-story Usonian home built in 1957 in Lisle, Illinois, to save it from being torn down. They were in the process of moving it to Johnstown in pieces, and Papinchak offered his services as a contractor on the project. When the project's investors decided not to continue funding in 2006, Papinchak bought the house outright to rebuild it at Polymath Park.

As the house was taken apart, every beam and stone was assigned a number that corresponded to a master plan showing the proper place of each piece. Papinchak and his team of four spent a year carefully putting the house back together, refurbishing it as they went along. It wasn't always straightforward reassembly—Wright had used 30- and 60-degree angles within the structure, which required Papinchak to get a little crafty, since most homes feature 90-degree angles. There were also the cantilevers and overhangs, signature Wrightian elements, which required some careful engineering.

“It was truly surreal to personally rebuild Wright’s Duncan House with my small crew,” Papinchak says. “I enjoyed every moment, but didn’t fully realize what was accomplished until the grand opening, when I saw the positive reaction from not only the local community, but the Wright world at large.”

In 2007, the Papinchaks opened Polymath Park to the public. Wright fans could tour the three Wright-related homes on the property and rent them out for overnight stays, which proved popular with architecture buffs visiting Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, another nearby Wright work.

REBUILDING THE LINDHOLM HOUSE

But Polymath Park is not done growing. The Papinchaks are hard at work rebuilding another relocated Wright home— Lindholm House, also known as Mantyla—piece by piece.

“I first became aware of the house about 10 years ago,” Papinchak says. “I had given a tour at the park, and afterwards a gentleman mentioned his neighbor was living in a Wright house that was being encroached on by commercial property.”

Lindholm House in its original Minnesota location, before it was moved to Polymath ParkCourtesy of Polymath Park

Originally built in 1952 in Cloquet, Minnesota, for gas station owners Ray and Emma Lindholm, Lindholm House had remained in family hands for its entire existence. Initially, Lindholm descendants Julene and Peter McKinney weren’t ready to sell the property when Papinchak reached out to them. But maintaining the aging home had become increasingly difficult, and the couple was worried about the house's survival with the commercial development around it.

They consulted the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, an organization dedicated to preserving the architect’s works, and decided that relocating the house was the best choice to protect it. The decision wasn't made lightly—Wright purposefully designed his houses for specific sites, integrating the architecture with the landscape, so moving any of his structures would break Wrightian principles. Only in instances where a building’s survival is threatened will the conservancy consider a move, which is how the Lindholm House qualified for relocation.

With their previous experience in moving a Wright house, the Papinchaks joined forces with a relocation contractor and an architect from the conservancy for the new project, and this time, the McKinneys agreed to send their home to Pennsylvania.

The Lindholm House was dismantled in early 2016, and as with the Duncan House relocation, each and every piece of the home was numbered to guide the reassembly process. After the pieces were shipped to Pennsylvania, the Papinchaks began the process of building the house from scratch according to the numbered master plan.

The newest of the four Wright-related buildings at Polymath Park is scheduled to open this summer, giving guests a rare chance to experience life inside a Wright-designed home—set, as the architect would have wanted, in a quiet, wooded landscape.

“Heather and I are hands-on,” Papinchak says. “We do whatever it takes to further the preservation of these architectural gems.”

Save Up to 80 Percent on Furniture, Home Decor, and Appliances During Wayfair's Way Day 2020 Sale

Wayfair
Wayfair

From September 23 to September 24, customers can get as much as 80 percent off home decor, furniture, WFH essentials, kitchen appliances, and more during the Wayfair's Way Day 2020 sale. Additionally, when you buy a select Samsung appliance during the sale, you'll also get a $200 Wayfair gift card once the product ships. Make sure to see all that the Way Day 2020 sale has to offer. These prices won’t last long, so we've also compiled a list of the best deals for your home below.

Rugs

AllModern/Wayfair

- Mistana Hillsby Power Loom Beige Saffron/Teal Rug $49 (save $97)

- Wrought Studios Shuff Abstract Blue Area Rug $100 (save $105)

- All Modern Lydia Southwestern Cream/Charcoal Area Rug $49 (save $100)

- Union Rustic Gunter Power Loom Blue/Khaki Rug $22 (save $38)

- Willa Arlo Interiors Omri Oriental Light Gray/Ivory Area Rug $49 (save $149)

Furniture

Langley Street/Wayfair

- Alwyn Home 14-inch Medium Gel Memory Foam King Mattress $580 (save $1420)

- Andover Mills Pascal Upholstered King Bed Frame $318 (save $832)

- Sol 72 Outdoor 8-Piece Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $650 (save $1180)

- Langley Street Darren 68-Inch Tuxedo Arm Sofa $340 (save $1410)

- Three Posts Tyronza Coffee Table $147 (save $193)

Kitchen

NutriBullet/Wayfair

- Cuisinart 11-Piece Aluminum Non Stick Cookware Set $100 (save $200)

- Rachael Ray Cucina 10-Piece Non-Stick Bakeware Set $92 (save $108)

- NutriBullet Rx Smart 45-Ounce Personal Countertop Blender $124 (save $56)

- Henckels Graphite 13-Piece Knife Block Set $160 (save $340)

- DeLonghi ECP3220 15-Bar Pump Espresso Machine $120 (save $90)

Electronics

Samsung/Wayfair

- Samsung 36-Inch French Door Energy Smart Refrigerator $3600 (save $400)

- Cosmo 30-Inch Freestanding Electric Range Oven $1420 (save $1580)

- Whynter 19-Bottle Single Zone Built-In Wine Refrigerator $380 (save $232)

- bObsweep PetHair Robotic Vacuum Cleaner with Mop Attachment $226 (save $443)

- Rowenta Focus 1700 Iron with Burst of Steam $68 (save $47)

Work From Home Essentials

Foundery Select/Wayfair

- Techi Mobili Adjustable Laptop Cart $50 (save $20)

- Foundry Select Arsenault Farmhouse Desk $210 (save $190)

- Symple Stuff Clay Mesh Task Chair $128 (save $121)

- Three Posts Salina Standard Bookcase $183 (save $617)

- Lorell Hard Floor Chairmat $52 (save $39)

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Meet Your Home's Microbes in The Great Indoors

Taylor Wilcox/Unsplash
Taylor Wilcox/Unsplash

This year, you’ve probably been spending more time than you ever expected at home. You might be sharing space with family members, roommates, pets—and an entire universe of microbes. In The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of How Buildings Shape Our Behavior, Health, and Happiness, science journalist Emily Anthes investigates homes, offices, schools, hospitals, and other places where we live, work, and play. She looks at how the design of our surroundings affects major aspects of our lives, even when we don’t realize it. In this excerpt, she explores the thriving communities of bacteria and fungi with which we share our abodes—and what they reveal about us.

In 2010, microbiologist Noah Fierer made his first foray into the indoor microbial world, cataloging the bacteria present in 12 public restrooms at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he teaches. (Among the findings: The floor and the toilet handles were home to similar kinds of bacteria, suggesting that some bathroom-goers were flushing the toilet with their feet—“a practice well known to germaphobes and those who have had the misfortune of using restrooms that are less than sanitary,” Fierer and his colleagues reported.) The following year, he studied the microbes in residential kitchens and partnered with Rob Dunn to launch the Wild Life of Our Homes project. They began with a small pilot study in North Carolina, recruiting 40 families to run cotton swabs across seven surfaces inside their homes: a countertop, a cutting board, a refrigerator shelf, a pillowcase, a toilet seat, a TV screen, and the trim around an interior doorway.

The homes were crawling with microbial squatters—more than two thousand types, on average. Different locations within the homes formed distinct habitats: kitchens harbored bacteria associated with food, while doorways were covered in species that typically live in leaves and soil. From a microbiological perspective, toilet seats and pillowcases looked strikingly similar; both were dominated by bacteria that typically live on our skin and in our mouths.

Beyond these commonalities, there was a lot of variation among the homes, each of which had its own microbial profile, sheltering a slightly different collection of organisms. But the researchers couldn’t explain why. So Fierer and Dunn launched a second study, asking more than one thousand families living across the United States to swab the dust that had collected on the trim around their interior doorways.

“We focused on that because nobody ever cleans it,” Fierer told me. “Or we don’t clean it very often—maybe you’re an exception.” (I am not.) Because the dust collects over months or years, the duo hoped it would give them the broadest possible look at indoor life, an inventory of the organisms that had floated, crawled, and skittered through the homes over the previous months and years. As Dunn put it: “Each bit of dust is a microhistory of your life.”

Back in the lab, the team analyzed the DNA fragments present in each dust sample, listing every organism that made an appearance. The numbers were staggering. In total, the indoor dust contained DNA from more than 116,000 species of bacteria and 63,000 species of fungi. “The shocker was the diversity of fungi,” Dunn told me. There are fewer than 25,000 species of named fungi in all of North America, which means that our houses could be teeming with organisms that are essentially unknown to science. In fact, when the researchers compared the indoor dust to samples that the volunteers had taken from the trim around an exterior door, they found that there was more microbial diversity inside the homes than outside of them.

Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Some of the species that Fierer and Dunn identified originate outside, hitching rides into our homes on our clothes or drifting in through open windows. (And they may not all be alive by the time they turn up inside; DNA sequencing can identify the organisms that are present in a sample, but it can’t distinguish between living creatures and dead ones.) Other kinds of bacteria actually grow in our homes—in our walls and our pipes, our air conditioning units, and our dishwashers. Some sprout on our houseplants or our food.

And a lot of indoor microbes, it turns out, are living on us. “We’re constantly shedding bacteria from every orifice and body part,” Fierer said. “It’s nothing to be grossed out about. It’s just the way it is.” Our individual microbiomes—the collection of microorganisms that live in and on our bodies—are unique, and we each leave our own microbial signatures on the places we inhabit. In one innovative study, re- searchers tracked three families as they moved into new homes; each family’s distinct blend of microbes colonized its new residence within hours. The scientists—led by Jack Gilbert, a microbial ecologist then at the University of Chicago—could even detect the individual microbial contributions of each family member. “People who spent more time in the kitchen, their microbiome dominated that space,” Gilbert explained. “People who spent more time in the bedroom, their microbiome dominated there. You could start to forensically identify their movement.”

Indeed, the bacteria that turn up inside a home depend enormously on who lives there. Fierer and Dunn found that Lactobacil­lus bacteria, which are a major component of the vaginal microbiome, were most abundant in homes in which women outnumbered men. When men were in the majority, different bacteria thrived: Roseburia, which normally live in the gut, and Corynebacterium and Derma­bacter, which both populate the skin. Corynebacterium is known to occupy the armpit and contribute to body odor. “Maybe it means that men’s houses smell more like armpits,” Dunn ventured. “Microbially, that’s a fair assessment.” The findings may be due to sex differences in skin biology; men tend to have more Corynebacterium on their skin— and to shed more skin microbes into the environment—than women do. (The researchers also acknowledge the possibility that a bachelor pad’s bacterial profile could be the result of “hygiene practices.”) In a subsequent study, Fierer and his colleagues showed that they could accurately predict the sex of the students living in a college dorm room simply by analyzing the bacteria in its dust.

Meanwhile, dogs introduce their own drool and fecal microbes into a home and track soil dwellers in from outside. (Dog owners never seem too bothered when Dunn tells them that Fido is smuggling an entire microbial zoo into their homes. “It’s a pretty fine conversation most of the time,” he told me. On the other hand, he noted, “If I say that every time your neighbor comes over, that he brings over a mix of beneficial microbes and pathogens, it just makes people scrub.”) Cats change a home’s microbial makeup more modestly, perhaps because they are smaller and venture outside less often. Using the dust DNA alone, Fierer and Dunn were able to predict whether a home contained a dog or a cat with roughly 80 to 90 percent accuracy.

While the bacteria in our homes mostly comes from us (and our pets), the fungi are another story. Fungi are much less abundant in our own microbiomes, and our houses are dominated by fungal species that originate outdoors. A home’s fungal signature, Fierer and Dunn found, was largely determined by where it was located. Houses in eastern states had different fungal communities than those in western ones. Ditto homes in humid climates compared with those in dry ones. The geographic correlation was so strong that Fierer and Dunn could use fungal DNA to determine, to within about 150 miles, where a house dust sample originated.

Fierer and Dunn did identify more than 700 kinds of fungi that were more common indoors than out, including a variety of household molds, yeasts, edible mushrooms, and fungi that live on human skin. Homes with basements had different fungi than those without them. And because some species of fungi feed on wood and other building materials, what our homes are made of affects the fungi that live there. “It’s kind of a ‘three pigs’ thing,” Dunn told me. “A stone house feeds different fungi from a wood house from a mud house. Because unlike the bacteria, they’re eating the house.”

 

Some of the microbes that inhabit our homes are known to cause disease. Black mold, which grows in and on our walls, can trigger allergies and respiratory problems. Aspergillus fumigatus, a fungus that can cause lung infections in people with weakened immune systems, lives in our pillows. Legionella pneumophila, a bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease, loves indoor plumbing. It nestles inside hot water tanks, cooling towers, and faucets, and spreads through airborne, or aerosolized, droplets of water. Streptococcus bacteria—which can cause strep throat, sinus and ear infections, pinkeye, meningitis, and pneumonia—are more abundant inside our homes than outside them, Fierer and Dunn found. Though the mere presence of these microbes isn’t necessarily dangerous, and not all strains cause illness, buildings can provide an infrastructure that helps diseases spread. Airborne influenza can waft through an office building’s ventilation system; a spray of Strepto­coccus can turn a doorknob into a booby trap.

But many indoor microbes are completely innocuous, and some may even have lifelong health benefits. In recent decades, the rates of asthma, allergies, and autoimmune diseases have skyrocketed in industrialized nations. Some scientists have theorized that the increasing prevalence of these diseases may be the fault of our modern lifestyles, which keep us at a distance from the robust microbial menageries that surrounded our ancestors for most of human evolution. As a result, our immune systems never get properly trained.

Evidence has been accumulating to support this theory. Studies show that children who live with dogs, which increase the richness and diversity of bacteria in a home, are less sensitive to allergens and less likely to develop asthma. (A dog might be the immune system’s best friend.) Children who grow up on farms, and are exposed to livestock and their microbes, appear to be similarly protected from allergies and asthma.

Some of the most compelling evidence comes from research on two American farming communities: the Amish and the Hutterites. Although the groups have much in common—including large families and Central European ancestry—just 5 percent of Amish kids have asthma, compared to 21 percent of Hutterite children. The communities also have distinct farming customs. The Amish, who generally eschew electricity, live on single-family farms and employ traditional agricultural methods, using horses to plow their fields. It’s not uncommon for Amish children to play in the family barns, which are typically located near their homes. The Hutterites, on the other hand, live together on big, industrial farms, complete with high-tech tools and equipment, and their children have less contact with livestock.

These differences may affect the children’s microbial exposures and the development of their immune systems. In 2016, scientists reported that house dust collected from Amish households had higher levels of endotoxins—molecules contained in the cellular membranes of some bacteria—than dust from Hutterite homes. What’s more, when they drew blood from kids in both communities, they found that compared to Hutterite children, Amish children had more neutrophils, white blood cells that help the body fight infection, and fewer eosinophils, which play a critical role in allergic reactions.

The researchers also whipped up some house-dust cocktails, mixing dust samples from Amish and Hutterite homes with water, and then shooting the slurries into the nasal passages of young mice. Then they exposed the mice to allergens. The mice that had received the Hutterite dust responded as expected; their airways trembled and twitched. But the mice that had received the Amish dust continued to breathe relatively freely, seemingly protected from this allergic response.

Although there’s still a lot to learn, the science suggests that a healthy home is one that’s full of uninvited guests. “We are exposed to microbes every day, and a lot of these are harmless or potentially beneficial,” Fierer told me. “We don’t want a sterile house.” Which is good, because it turns out that I don’t have one.