The Wright Look

The Sutton House was the creepiest place in McCook, or so Carol Schlegel thought when she was growing up. As a girl, she would cross to the other side of Norris Avenue to avoid walking by the old place, sometimes bypassing the street altogether, even if it meant taking a less direct route to the park. The home had been converted into a medical clinic, and the concrete-block wall and wrought-iron fence that had been erected around it seemed eerie and threatening to her young mind.

No one wanted to buy the Sutton House when the local doctor closed his clinic in the 1970s and tried to sell. “It was the biggest white elephant in town,” Schlegel said. There were rumors the structure would simply be demolished, she said, before the Poore family bought it at auction and began fixing it up. 
Some people still thought of the house as an eyesore when Van and Jan Korell purchased it in 1992 – “I can’t believe you bought that monstrosity,” a longtime McCook resident told Jan – but the Korells were determined to restore it to the original vision of its architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. It took years of work, but they did it, and today Frank Lloyd Wright’s Nebraska masterpiece is a McCook icon.

Jan Korell doesn’t mind the tourists who make pilgrimages to McCook just to gaze upon her home. A quick check of the license plates on cars that stop outside her home tells her that many people come from out of state to see it.

The Sutton House looks like a contemporary design, even though it was built in 1908, when the Victorian style was still in vogue. Most remarkable is the cantilevered roof that juts out from the house with no visible supports, covering an enclosed veranda. Wright designed the home in his Prairie style, emphasizing horizontal lines and downplaying any vertical elements to such an extent that he omitted downspouts. 

The main entrance is nearly hidden, which was typical of Wright’s houses, Jan said. “He believed that people who didn’t already know where the front door was probably didn’t have any business bothering the people in the house,” she said.

The interior is perhaps the most modern-looking aspect of the home. The living room blends seamlessly into the dining room – an open floor plan that’s highly desirable today but almost unheard-of a century ago. Also unusual for the time are the numerous windows that fill the rooms with light, yet, thanks to Wright’s ingenuity, don’t allow passersby to see much of the interior. In fact, the Korells don’t even need curtains on the first floor.

Although the structure is a celebrated work of art, it is admirably well suited to its intended purpose as a place for people to live. This is the Korells’ full-time home, and they adore living here. Wright may have been a genius, but he wasn’t infallible. “He didn’t care much about bathrooms, kitchens or closets,” Jan said, noting that they converted an upstairs bedroom into a master bathroom, as the original bathroom was so tiny. And, like many of Wright’s buildings, the roof leaks during heavy rains.


For the rest of the story see the March/April issue of Nebraska Life.

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