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Designing Chattanooga, TN: The Shavin House by Frank Lloyd Wright

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The Shavin House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright | Photo by NOOGAtoday

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Chattanooga is home to a true gem — the Shavin House on Missionary Ridge, which was designed by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the late 1940s.

Fast facts

  • The Shavin House is the only building in Tennessee designed by Wright
  • The original owners, Seamour and Gertrude Shavin, lived in the house up until their deaths
  • The original owners’ 3 children now own the home (keep reading for an interview with Karen Shavin, their daughter)
  • It is 1 of fewer than 100 Usonian houses
  • The house sits on the north end of Missionary Ridge — the Civil War Battle of Missionary Ridge was fought on the same land

Design

The Shavin House is a Usonian build, meaning it was meant to be modest, inexpensive, ideal for the working class, but without losing any beauty + charm.

There were 5 different Usonian designs, the Shavin House being a Polliwog design with characteristics like an L-shaped shell — the body of the “L” is formed by the living room, study, and compact kitchen + the tail of the “L” is bedrooms linked by a gallery.

Frank Lloyd Wright is known for the importance he put on natural, local materials that blend well with the outdoors, so you can still feel connected to nature even when inside.

The Shavin House materials:

  • Crab Orchard stone makes up the exterior walls — Crab Orchard is native to the Cumberland Plateau in northern Tennessee.
  • The stone is also present in the interior walls where it meets cypress wood panels.
  • The floor is brick-red concrete, heated with electric cables.
  • Originally, the shingles were cedar, but have since been replaced with asphalt shingles.

The house faces west, overlooking Chattanooga to Lookout Mountain in the distance.

The living room has floor-to-ceiling, single-paned windows that offer a panoramic view + trees on the west side of the house to provide shade from the afternoon sun.

As Karen Shavin sees it

When Seamour and Gertrude Shavin approached Frank Lloyd Wright in 1949, their daughter, Karen, was in utero. Because of this, Karen likes to say that she and the house were conceived at the same time.

Now, Karen lives in Baltimore, Maryland + is a Massage Therapist, Yoga Instructor, and casual baker of plum pies.

Q: Did you know the house was special as a child?

A: “As a young child, I just assumed this was how people lived. Every year on our family vacations we’d travel to see a different Wright house.”

When she’d visit friends, she’d notice aspects of their homes that were different from hers, like one friend had a swimming pool, and, of course, as a child she thought that was more special.

Q: Did you enjoy growing up in the house?

A: “My parents felt there was no other way to live than in a Wright house, but I can see beauty in other ways, too. It felt more like living in a piece of art, a sculpture, and there were parts of it that didn’t function well, like the small kitchen and the small fridge that’s under the cabinet — it wasn’t ideal for a family.”

She mentioned that the house was designed and built during a movement toward tiny homes (much like the one we’re in now), and everything was compact. But while some parts didn’t function well, she did say that the house never felt compact because of its access to the outdoors.

“Your interaction with the art changes you — not just your eye, but your soul.”

Q: Would you like to live in the house again?

A: “I still love my house, and I’d love to live in it again. The house is officially a Chattanooga landmark, and it was built to be lived in. I don’t want to see it become another museum. It was built for ordinary people.”

Karen hopes to find ways to share the home with the community. She mentioned possibly opening it up for wellness activities or creating a residency program. Whatever happens, she says there needs to be a plan for sustainability.

There is currently nothing in the works, but it is her dream.

Q: What do you want people to take away from this?

A: “I want your readers to appreciate that this house exists. Don’t go on the property without permission, but go see the house.”

The address of the house is 334 N. Crest Rd. — if you go see the house, please respect Karen’s wishes and admire it from the driveway.

Karen hopes that if you venture up to Missionary Ridge, you can see what she thinks is the lesson of the house: “To see the beauty and interconnectedness of the land and life.”

Bonus: Take yourself on a tour with these photos of the house.

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