Sunday, September 5, 2010

The 50-cent Tour

Yesterday, I gave a tour of my father's home to the son of a former client and his daughter. In my dreams this morning, I heard my father asking me to give his visitors "The 50-cent tour." This request was legend in our family. At the end of the tour, I would attempt to collect the 50-cents; of course, the attempt was feigned.

Visitors to our home took the long path up to the front door, greeted by Paolo Soleri bells which lined the front walk. They entered our house through a hand-carved, heavy wood door from Mexico with a metal wood knocker. And caught a glimpse of the Fica tree in the atrium, behind which was the large mosaic of a Mexican woman with flowers in her hair, and tropical jungle behind her.

Giving tours of our home was normal routine, however, it occurred to me this morning that most people do not provide such tours for 50-cents or otherwise. But, then, most people are not the children of an architect whose "bread and butter" was designing residences for his clients. And, many of our visitors were the parents and children of people who wanted a "Don Erickson" home.

The people to whom I was providing the "50-cent" tour and I had a special bond for the son was raised in a "Don Erickson" home on Murphy's Lake in Park Ridge. As we toured the home, he could see the same design concepts used in his home as my father used in ours. And, I realized that this man and his daughter both revered my father's work; further, the son missed the home that he had been raised in.

We walked into the living room, a room whose edges had been softened by an oriental carpet and protected by ancient, bronze foo dogs that used to frighten me when I was a child. Below the living room is the entertainment room where two baby grands used to sit, side-by-side, for both Don and Shirley had trained to be concert pianists. Indeed, I told our visitors, that we used to hold family concerts in the living room, with my father playing the piano, our guests playing the cello, and viola, and me on the violin.

I explained that the entertainment room was an addition to the original structure, a structure which was leveled by a tornado which ripped through Barrington, Illinois. At that time, the house was more in keeping with Wright's prairie style; the home was topped with a flat roof that curved over the brick walls, punctuated with skylights. But, having traveled to Jamaica, and enchanted by the thatched cottages in the Jamaican countryside, my father fell in love with these simple roofs. In rebuilding our home after the tornado, he incorporated Jamaican roofs into the design. Huge, wooden beams arched up to the sky, topped with skylights, covered with cedar shake shingles. (One could lay in bed and watch the rain fall from the sky or see the stars at night.)

The three children's bedrooms are small and intimate. After having read "Swiss Family Robinson," I asked my father to design a loft with a ladder that we could raise and lower (and where we met with our friends beyond our parent's reach.) Our rooms looked out onto trees and lilies of the valley, or to snow in winter, our private retreats.

The master bedroom is reachable through a long hallway, and is deliberately far from the children's wing. Don incorporated this same long hallway in the Inverness home built for his parents. Lined with closets on one side, and dressers on the other, when one emerges from the hallway, the master bedroom is also a private retreat, perfect for reflection.

Perhaps it was the outdoor showers at the "Rock House" in Negril that influenced my father, or not, but the experience of showering in nature was incorporated into the master bedroom. Surrounded by lava rock, windows and tropical plants, the shower is designed to provide the feeling that one is close to the jungle, a celebration of nature.

We circled back to the kitchen area with the adjoining family room. It was the family room that we really lived in, and where my father conceptualized many of his designs. Having resided away from home for much of my adult life, when I visited home, my father and I would convene at the early hour of 6:00 a.m. to speak of my life and his recent designs. This lead to "blueprints" being rolled out on the kitchen table, and lengthy discussions about a design concept for Don's newest client. And, if time allowed, we would make a driving tour of Don's building projects where we gingerly stepped over paint cans and wood piles, and were greeted with the sweet smell of sap seeping from newly cut 2 x 4's.

In our Barrington home, the "studio" which was originally reserved for my mother's creations (she is an award-winning artist), became my father's place to work in 1992 when he broke off a partnership with another FLW-trained architect, leaving even his cousin, Richard Erickson, behind to go "solo." Although Don had a number of apprentices, he said that he was never able to find a chief draftsperson like Richard again. The two men, raised by Swedish immigrant brothers in Chicago, reconciled just prior to Don's death; they left an indelible impression on each other.

But, here I was providing a tour to a man and to his daughter who appreciated my father's work and who knew what it was to live in a "Don Erickson" home. I didn't have to say very much for they already understood so much about our home, for the son's own home had some of the same features. And, I knew that they loved their home, respected my father and his work, and were part of a greater family, a family who had been touched by Don's design. If I have any wish, it is that just such a family would own Don's Barrington home . . .