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Historically Rich

Written by Jane Trabert Schmit
Imagery by Sandra Kicman

A rich history adds to the intrigue of a Buffalo-area house admired by architectural enthusiasts for nearly a century. And while the family who bought it three years ago simply calls it  “home,”  historians point to it as a masterpiece by the great American architect Ernest Flagg, a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright.
    Set on a generous lot along a curved, tree-lined street, the French Provincial-style house was built in 1925 and has attracted interest ever since in this upscale suburb. But though passersby may be drawn to its European charm, most are unaware that this is the long-ago work of Flagg, a New York-born but French-trained master of the principles of design who famously said,  “Architecture is artistic construction.”
    Indeed, this is a living, breathing example of that concept. Shaded by towering Austrian pine trees, it features a gable roof, a gray stone exterior and a courtyard that in every season is a
place of beauty and serenity.
    At 4,600 square feet, it’s hardly what the owners envisioned when they decided to downsize from the large family home in North Buffalo where they lived for 21 years. But the heart wants what it wants, as the saying goes, and waking up each day in such elegant space has been a dream come true.
    “What’s not to love?”  they said during a recent tour of the house, which has 3 1/2 baths and four bedrooms.
    The living room, or Great Room, as the owners prefer to call it, stretches 50 feet across the front of the house. With a beamed ceiling, stucco walls and original slate floor, the layout features two fireplaces, one at each end. Artwork is everywhere, and the decor is further defined by antiques ranging from lamps and glassware to a French accent table. A round, polished wood table at one end seats ten for dinner but over the years this room has accommodated groups of all sizes for parties, fundraisers, even concerts.
    “I heard that Pablo Casals (the Spanish cellist and composer) played his cello in this room,” said the owner.
    And there you have it: This home has a unique history that began with the distinction of being the only one in this region to be designed by Flagg, a Beaux-Arts trained architect whose long list of projects includes the Scribner and Singer buildings in New York City, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and an assortment of buildings at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
    His residential designs were considered equally inventive and captured the attention of Wright and others. In fact, the owners proudly possess not only the blueprints but copies of correspondence between Wright and Darwin Martin regarding the house. The story goes that Flagg was in Buffalo competing with Wright in bidding for a project when someone hired him to design this house, widely considered to be one of the first to be heated with forced hot air. “It’s nfascinating,” the owner said.  “Buffalo has such a rich history and it’s really amazing to think that we’re living in some of
that history.”

“Can anything call up to the imagination a more delightful vision than the privacy of a lovely garden, where, amidst trees, flowers, and shrubs, and secluded from the vulgar gaze, one may pass his leisure hours surrounded by the beauties of nature and the society of one’s family and intimate friends?”
— Architect Ernest Flagg

    There have been different owners over the years, and elements that needed to be updated were, of course, but many original features remain. Concrete walls are 19 inches thick in certain parts of the home, they point out. And the attention to detail that was the architect’s hallmark has endured in everything from custom paneled doors and cabinetry to deep-silled, leaded windows and a heavy wrought-iron gate that leads from the courtyard to the backyard gardens and pool area.
    The courtyard is a wonder all its own, accented by ferns and climbing hydrangea and surveyed by gargoyles high above. The house was built around this  “interior garden,” a European feature that Flagg has described in his writings as  “one of the greatest pleasures which life can afford – the possession of a garden in the true sense of the word.”
    Here is where the owners come to relax, to gather with family and friends and simply enjoy the outdoors. They call it a  “secret jewel.”
    “When we are sitting out here on a balmy evening and the lights are on around you, you feel like you are somewhere in France,”  they said.
    Push open the iron gate and you’re in the backyard pool area where clematis and white roses climb an Amish-built trellis of white oak. There are crabapple and fig trees, lavender, aphrodite sweetshrub and more.
    The owners insist that after just three years here, the gardens are a work in progress but there’s a lushness that is a carryover from the yard at their previous home, where the gardens were a labor of love and a similar focal point.
    They are generous and sharing with the house and the grounds, mindful of the unique setting it provides not only for their own family but to all who visit. Said the owner:  “As I told a friend, really, we don’t  ‘own’  this house. We’re merely caretakers of it for a time and the house will then move on to somebody else.”
    But for now, it’s all theirs.   

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