Massaro House is a residence on privately owned Petre Island in Lake Mahopac, New York, roughly 50 miles north of New York city. Its construction was inspired by designs of a never-built project conceived by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. As conceived it was known as the "Chahroudi House" for the client who commissioned it, Ahmed "A. K." Chahroudi; as built it gained the name of its owner, Joseph Massaro.
Due to a running dispute with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and subsequent out-of-court settlement the home can only be described as being "inspired by Wright" rather than a faithfully rendered, certified Wright design.
In 1949, architect Frank Lloyd Wright received a commission from Ahmed Chahroudi to build a house on a 10-acre (40,000 m2) island the engineer owned in Lake Mahopac, Petre (historically spelled "Petra", from the Latin for "rock", reflecting the prominence where the home was to be constructed). Chahroudi would later state that during a lunch meeting with Wright and Edgar Kaufmann, the owner of Wright’s celebrated Fallingwater, the architect told Kaufmann: "When I finish the house on the island, it will surpass your Fallingwater".
Wright worked on designing a one-story, 5,000-square-foot (460 m2) house for three months, but the project was cancelled when Chahroudi realized he would not be able to afford either the $50,000 budget that Wright envisioned for the project or a second more modest version he requested. Instead, he had Wright build a three bedroom 1,200-square-foot (110 m2) guest cottage the architect had designed for the island, later occupying it with his family as a summer retreat.
In 1996, Petre Island was purchased for $700,000 USD by Joseph Massaro, a sheet metal contractor. Though he had seen the original Chahroudi commission drawings for the main home years earlier, he initially intended merely to restore the island’s Wright-designed guest cottage.
Those drawings– a floor plan with ideas for built-in and stand-alone furniture, a building section, and three elevations–were included in his acquisition of the island. He hired Thomas A. Heinz, an architect and Wright historian, to complete the only partially realized design.
Heinz employed 3D CAD/CAM computer software to model aspects of Wright's design not self-evident in the original renderings. His design also provided updated heating and cooling solutions such as air conditioning and radiant heating that were not part of the original Wright concept. Chimney caps were also added, which Wright characteristically demurred, for the home’s six fireplaces.
In common with Fallingwater, the house’s design does not merely accommodate but actually incorporates the local topography. A 12-foot (3.7 m)-high, 60-foot (18 m)-long rock forms the exterior to the entry and an interior wall, while a smaller rock doubles as a kitchen and bathroom wall. Again, like Fallingwater's signature terraces, the house features a cantilevered deck that stretches 25 feet (7.6 m) over Lake Mahopac. Its 18-foot (5.5 m)-high living area is illuminated with 26 triangular skylights.
Massaro sold his sheet metal business in 2000 to focus on building the house, a fluid process that included solutions and adjustments made on the fly between 2003 and 2007.
Denial of authenticity
Throughout the construction, Massaro was in conflict with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which had been established by the architect in 1940 to conserve his intellectual property. Massaro told interviewers that the foundation requested $450,000 to render working drawings from Wright's sketches and supervise construction of the house. Instead, Massaro hired Heinz and the foundation filed a lawsuit, which ended in a settlement that limited Massaro to referring to the structure as merely being "inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright".
The foundation refuses to recognize Massaro House as an official Frank Lloyd Wright creation on a number of aesthetic and construction grounds beyond Massaro's refusal to comply with certification. Massaro countered that he believed that Wright would rather the house be built than not built at all.
Criticism of design
Rejection of the house by critics as a Wright design extends beyond the architectural supervision and fees, and includes details of the Massaro House construction. Notably, William Allin Storrer, an adjunct professor of architecture and Wright historian, points to the desert masonry and skylight selection. Additionally, the quality of the roof fascia and a set of missing stairs descending from the cantilevered deck to the shore below that was included in the original design are highlighted as contentious details that should remove the house from consideration as a Wright design.
Storrer pointed out that rocks used in the desert masonry project out from the concrete surface on the Massaro House. Wright's signature desert masonry embedded native rocks closely in concrete. In his designs, Storrer claimed, rocks are flush with the face of the concrete, rather than distinct from one-another and randomly applied to otherwise finished walls protruding at odd angles. Evading the aesthetic consequence of design choices made, Massaro countered that 4 inches (100 mm) of Styrofoam insulation had to be added in order to adhere to modern building codes, resulting in the stones projecting beyond the original dimensions. He claimed that it was a concession even Wright would have been forced to make. As rendered, that claim is untenable. 
Another signature of Wright's designs is the use of many windows, with the Heinz design for Massaro House including 26 skylights. The skylights chosen and installed in the home are domed, rather than the typically flat Wright designed panels. Massaro pointed out that flat panels are shown to leak, which Storrer conceded is a known issue with Wright designs but countered that solutions exist that would have allowed Massaro to stay true to "Wrightian" design principles.
Homes designed by Wright often incorporate a unique design in the fascia or window frames. To stamp the custom design into the copper to be used for the fascia on the roof, Massaro created a special machine. Wright defenders insist that the design is stamped too lightly and shallowly to satisfy Wright's design standards.
Several of Wright's design drawings for Chahroudi include a set of stairs that descend from the cantilevered deck to the rocky shore below, a motif borrowed from Fallingwater, where they descend to the stream that home is built upon, Bear Run. Massaro explained that had the stairs been included in his design they would have descended into 3 feet (0.91 m) of water, disregarding that the flight could have been shortened to accommodate.
The Massaro House is maintained as a private residence and is not open for the general public. However, Massaro has stated he would make the house available as a fundraising location for nonprofit charitable groups.
- “New `Frank Lloyd Wright' Home Rises; Purists Protest (Update1),” Bloomberg News, November 13, 2006 Archived October 23, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
- Town and Country
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- "Do The Wright Thing", Alternative Energy Retailer, August 2007
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- “New Home is Wright from Start,” New York Post, August 13, 2007
- “Home lives up to Frank Lloyd Wright legend, owner says,” Los Angeles Times
- Ivry, Bob (11 November 2006). "Squabble over architecture pits homeowner against purists". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 15 May 2016.