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Frank Lloyd Wright home for sale in Sammamish

Jack Cullen poses in his Sammamish home, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Cullen’s stepfather, Ray Brandes. Cullen is selling the 1952 house, which is listed on the National Historic Register of Places. - Mark Lowry/Reporter
Jack Cullen poses in his Sammamish home, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Cullen’s stepfather, Ray Brandes. Cullen is selling the 1952 house, which is listed on the National Historic Register of Places.
— image credit: Mark Lowry/Reporter

When Ray and Mimi Brandes wrote to Frank Lloyd Wright in 1951, asking him to design them a home, they didn’t think they had much of a chance.

Wright wrote back within six days, accepting the project.

“They thought it was a total shot in the dark,” said Jack Cullen, Ray Brandes’ stepson and current owner of the Sammamish house that Wright designed for the Brandes. The house has been on the market for about a year, and is currently listed at $1.5 million.

Cullen said a potential buyer has expressed interest — someone he thinks will be a good owner and stay true to Wright’s original design.

In their initial letter, Ray and Mimi Brandes described themselves and what they hoped Wright might be able to create for them.

“We need a home for a simple, unaffected, servant-less life, with facilities to produce and store as much of our own food as possible,” the two wrote in what has become Cullen’s favorite line.

Wright spent six to eight months designing the home, which was completed in 1952.

The result is a 1,900-square-foot house built of redwood, concrete block and glass.

Ray Brandes owned a construction company, and built the home as a showpiece. Wright’s plans, however, proved demanding, pricey and ultimately too time-consuming for Brandes to complete in their entirety. Out of necessity, he left out certain details and used stained cedar in places.

Since then, Cullen has meticulously replaced the cedar with redwood and completed all of the other plans, such as cutting and installing perforated boards that overlay each of the clerestory windows in the main living space.

“We were worried we’d lose a lot of light,” Cullen said. But rather than blocking light, Cullen said he found that the cut-out designs accentuate the light coming in, and the boards reflect back interior light.

“Part of what makes it work as a small house is that there’s glass on both sides,” Cullen said, gesturing to the expansive glass walls on either side of the great-room style living space. “If you had solid walls, it would feel very confining.”

Cantelevered overhangs protect the windows from rain, so the view of the naturally landscaped grounds is always clear.

“One of the elements I really like is that you can stand almost anywhere in the house and see outside,” Cullen said. “The sense of space it gives you is of a much bigger house.”

Ray Brandes later also constructed a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Normandy Park. Mimi Brandes passed away, and Ray married Cullen’s mother, Helen, in 1966. When Ray and Helen retired and moved to California in 1984, Jack Cullen bought the house from them. Cullen and his wife raised their two children — now grown — in the home that sits on about four acres off of 212th Avenue Southeast.

“It’s a wonderful space to raise kids in,” Cullen said.

In addition to the main home, Wright designed a 300-square-foot guest house that sits across the drive from the main home. It originally included a dark room for Ray Brandes’ love of photography, but now houses a small office and family room. Cullen says it was the prime spot for his kids to have sleepovers and listen to music with their friends when they were growing up.

The Brandes house is on the National Register of Historic Places, and protected by a preservation easement.

Among other elements, it features poured concrete floors in the “Navajo red” color that Wright used in his Usonian homes, Cullen said. The house has radiant heat from cast iron pipes that run beneath the concrete, Cullen said. A mammoth, open fireplace sits in a partial wall between one end of the living space and the kitchen, which has stainless steel countertops and a built-in drainboard.

The early use of the “great room” concept and built-in drainboards were just two of the many ways Wright was ahead of his time.

“He was a genius of an architect,” Cullen said.

Wright died in 1959 at the age of 92. He designed more than 1,100 projects, about half of which were built. His work included about 140 Usonian homes such as the Brandes House, according to the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust.

Some people might be somewhat starstruck living in a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house. But as Cullen said it has been for he and his family — and for the soon-to-be new owners — “This is home.”

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