A dramatic entry to a Wright house

Mary-Kate Mackey

Six years ago, Rob Steiner bought a Frank Lloyd Wright house in the hills of Eugene, Oregon. Built in 1958, it was a Usonian-style house, Wright's term for his designs that were affordable for the average American. Steiner thought that the existing entry looked too average, so he enlisted Eugene landscape architect Brad Stangeland to revamp it. "The problem was how to introduce guests to this dramatic house--it is Frank Lloyd Wright, for goodness sake--while still keeping a sense of the natural Oregon environment," Stangeland says.

Stangeland's solution was to position the visitor parking area as far from the front door as possible. A curving driveway leads family cars down to the garage, but guests leave their cars outside the Craftsman-style gate pictured in the far right corner. Once inside the gate, the journey begins: A path of basalt steppingstones is laced with jewel mint of Corsica (Mentha requienii), a creeping ground cover whose leaves release a spicy fragrance when crushed underfoot. Next to the path, a stream appears, surrounded by low-growing plants such as 'Gumpo White' azaleas, Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica 'Rubra'), and wild strawberries. The water splashes through a series of basins and disappears under the stone walkway, only to surface on the other side, flowing into several small pools where ferns, miniature cattail (Typha minima), and yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus) grow around moss-covered rocks.

Night lighting glows along the pathway, accentuating the branch patterns of Douglas firs and Japanese maples. As guests approach the front door, wide brick steps and a retaining wall signal a change from the natural to the formal, as the drama of the garden gives way to the drama of the house.