After a Thousand-Mile Journey, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mäntylä Opens to Overnight Guests

By Amy Dvorak / Published by Dwell

Meticulously restored and relocated by the husband-and-wife team behind Polymath Park in Pennsylvania, Mäntylä opens to tours and overnight stays near Fallingwater.

Tom and Heather Papinchak had their work cut out for them with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Lindholm House, also known as Mäntylä. Above painted concrete blocks and tidewater cypress was a red roof of interlocking, Ludowici tiles—some 7,000 in all—and after sitting among the pines of Northern Minnesota since 1952, they’d become dilapidated, all coated in sap.

Yet that did not deter the Papinchaks, who took on the task of painstakingly removing, cataloging, and restoring by hand each and every tile—not to mention, every nut, bolt, and screw—in an effort to authentically preserve Mäntylä for its 990-mile trek to its new home in Pennsylvania, 20 miles from Wright’s famed Fallingwater.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Lindholm House, or Mäntylä, is 2,300 square feet and is Finnish for "house among the pines." Prior to its relocation, it became encroached by new surrounding development and now resides among other Usonian homes in Pennsylvania's Polymath Park.  

Patrick J. Mahoney, courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy

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This wasn’t their first rodeo at architectural preservation. In 2003, the couple purchased the Balter and Blum Houses designed by Wright apprentice Peter Berndston, along with the 130-acre property known as Polymath Park, with the intention of protecting the land from development. Then, in 2007, the couple relocated a midwestern Wright project, the Duncan House, to the grounds and opened up Polymath Park to lodging and tours.

So in 2016, after owners Julene and Peter McKinney (a Lindholm descendant) failed to find a buyer who would preserve the integrity of Mäntylä after years of trying, the Papinchaks’ nonprofit, Usonian Preservation, was granted a tremendous responsibility by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.

"It’s important for generations to understand that Wright was so ahead of his time."

—Tom Papinchak, president of Usonian Preservation

"The hardest part was the first hit of the hammer," says Tom. "There were a lot of emotions, as it was a hard choice for everyone to move the house. We tried everything to keep it at the original location."

At its new site in Polymath Park, Mäntylä is in good company. Aside from the Duncan House and the Berndtson-designed residences, there are hiking trails and even a restaurant, where Heather cooks in addition to managing the day-to-day operations. "We do it for the purpose for preservation, but also for people to truly enjoy the space and appreciate the history in front of us and his legacy," says Tom. "It’s important for generations to understand that Wright was so ahead of his time. It makes sense in today’s standard of living, which is greener, smaller, and utilizes space efficiently."

According to Tom Papinchak, president of Usonian Preservation, the restoration was the most difficult part of relocating Frank Lloyd Wright's Mäntylä. "The family raised several children in house, so there was wear and tear," says Papinchak. "We questioned whether we restore it to its original, pristine state. There is a fine line there." Ultimately, they did restore 40 linear feet of cypress. 

Patrick J. Mahoney, courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy

Tom’s background in design and construction originally led him to Polymath Park, which began as a hobby but quickly turned into a serious preservation effort. The Papinchaks have become incredibly passionate about Wright’s work, having lived and breathed every minute of this restoration. During the dismantling process, they camped in sleeping bags inside the home and labored every day, 16 hours a day, for nine weeks.

"If it was about money or work, we would have stopped a long time ago," says Tom. "Without passion, we would not have been able to complete the project. There were so many people involved."

The team comprised a diverse mix of workers in construction and design who understood the fast-paced nature. Tom manually removed each piece of the home, with the hardest part falling to the planning. Before any dismantling, they revisited every possible angle to ensure there would not be any damage to the material. And in that, they were successful.

At Frank Lloyd Wright's Mäntylä, which has been relocated to Polymath Park in Pennsylvania, visitors can rent the home and stay overnight. There are no televisions or WiFi access, offering a quiet connection to the surrounding nature.

Patrick J. Mahoney, courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy

Aside from the concrete block, floor slab, and roof rafters, the entire home was transplanted. Tom and his team worked from multiple versions of prints and created their own set of drawings on site, with historic preservation the priority. Some modernization occurred to ensure longevity of the home, including mechanical and plumbing upgrades, and as Tom reminds, Wright was always a proponent of state-of-the-art materials and sustainability.

In addition to restoring the materials, the location was just as important. The home's original siting was intentional, and Usonian Preservation aimed to recreate that. The new land in Pennsylvania falls within 10 percent of the original landscape with regard to its topographic map, and they added more pine trees to recreate the same feel. The home’s southwest orientation remained the same, and it falls in line with the same solar path. 

In relocating Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mäntylä, siting was very important. The new area selected fell within 10 percent of the original landscape with regard to its topographic map in Minnesota, and more pine trees were added to recreate the same feel. The home’s southwest orientation remained the same, and it falls in line with the same solar path. 

Patrick J. Mahoney, courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy

All in, contractors spent around 9,000 hours on the project, and many of those were spent collaboratively with the Trust and the McKinneys. "The best part is that it consumes you and makes you want to get past the hard spots," says Tom. "My core group gelled and made it come to life. These are ordinary guys who would never think about this as anything but work, yet it brought tears to their eyes."

And that’s what sets this project apart. Through home tours, dining, and even overnight stays, the Usonian Preservation has created an accessible learning opportunity for anyone to experience Wright’s impact. "At certain properties, you have to watch how you breathe when you tour them," says Tom. "I wanted to create an experience and not just offer an hour-long tour without the true feel. It was a natural fit being located so close to Fallingwater, to have guests be able to experience that magnificent site and realize they learned of angles and compression and release and then come back here and experience it overnight."

The footprint on Frank Lloyd Wright's Mäntylä has more than 80 points, some 30 degrees, some 60 degrees, others 180. Wright used the most common material, cinder block, to create angles out of a hollow core of masonry unit.  

Patrick J. Mahoney, courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy

Tom gained inspiration from Wright and applied the compression and release approach—a design philosophy that places a wide, open space at the end of a narrow, constricting one— at Polymath Park: a gated entry signals a release from daily stressors and technology, ushering visitors into a serene setting steeped in architectural history. Thanks to the Papinchaks, it’s a history that the public can enjoy for years to come. "Architecture is life, and architecture moves you," says Tom. "And this home is starting a new one."

In looking back at the dismantling and restoring Frank Lloyd Wright's Mäntylä in Pennsylvania, Usonian Preservation President Tom Papinchak says, "I was most impressed with the back terrace, fixed glass, and operational doors. Floor-to-ceiling, everything is packed in and set. Every door opens and closes as though it never moved."

Patrick J. Mahoney, courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy

Learn more about Polymath Park.

Related Reading: 

Before & After: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rarely Seen Fredrick House Is Deftly Restored

Shop 10 Brand-New Products From the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Celebrated Robie House Reopens to the Public

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