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Secret life

Home away from home

Retired optometrist, Michael Priest, tells OT  about his passion for architecture

23 Feb 2018 by Selina Powell

My wife and I are both retired optometrists and we share an interest in architecture.

We have travelled to more than 50 countries together. When you are travelling, you see the different aspects of every country – the people, history, politics, culture and scenery. Buildings, architecture, art and design is part of the experience of visiting a city.

The architect who has perhaps most enriched our lives is Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked in the US from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. He was a difficult, abrasive character who mismanaged his financial and personal affairs. However, he is also responsible for designing some of the world’s most notable buildings.

Legacy

My interest in architecture was sparked by my brother-in-law, Bill French. He studied architecture at the Aston Unviersity at the same time that my wife and I were studying ophthalmic optics. Bill travelled to the US as a student intern in 1966 and took the opportunity to visit Frank Lloyd Wright architecture during his time there.

Bill was a lively, ambitious person and a technically talented architect. We commissioned him to design our house when we bought a plot of woodland in Staffordshire’s Cannock Chase Forest in 1979. He designed an innovative and comfortable family home that blended perfectly with the surrounding tree-filled natural landscape. Unfortunately, Bill died in a road accident in 1992. In our travels over the years since then, sometimes I will look at a building and think, “Bill would like this.” 

"Seeing the prairie houses was a moving experience. We recognised the woodwork, the use of light, the fireplace and low-pitched roof"

Home away from home

Half a century after Bill’s US internship adventures, my wife and I had the chance to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘prairie houses’ in Chicago and Pennsylvania. These designs are known for their long, low style, distinctive brickwork and overhanging roofs. We realised that this is what had inspired Bill all of those years ago in designing our home.

Seeing the prairie houses was a moving experience. We recognised the woodwork, the use of light, the fireplace and low-pitched roof. Gail and I lived in the Cannock Chase Forest house for 30 years. We brought up our family under that roof, but we didn’t put two and two together until we travelled to Chicago and Pennsylvania. I would walk into one and it was just like being home.

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