Midwest Modern

Photography by Charles Davis Smith, FAIA

How do you define luxury in a home? For Tulsa architect Brian Freese of Freese Architecture, the answer was easy when describing a new dwelling he designed, which he calls ‘Lakeside,’ on a bluff overlooking Skiatook Lake.

Luxury comes to Freese’s design table in many forms. This assignment, over three years in the making, was the perfect match for his interests. 

Freese’s plan for this lakeside setting features materials suited to the area: large scale structural timber, wood siding, metal roofs and rough-cut stone. 

“There is a lot of exposed timber in the exterior,” says Freese. “In addition to the structural timber frames, I designed the knife plate steel connections, that slice unseen into the ends of the timbers, secured with exposed bolts.”

This project catered to Freese’s love of Oklahoma’s diverse landscapes, and to his ability to match a variety of architectural projects to their surrounding environments. 

“This 10,200-square-foot home is a good example of my approach I call Midwest Modern,” says Freese. “The home is reflective of rural farmhouses and outbuildings of the Midwest – yet modernized with expansive glass walls and clean-lined, careful detailing to make it authentic to this era. The result is a home that is, despite its large size, at once inviting and comfortable.”

The owners had specific wishes and substantial input for their lakeside residence. 

“She is a retired computer systems analyst and has a keen eye for color and proportion,” says Freese. “Her second career as an artist is really taking off; most of the artwork in the home is hers. Her husband, a geologist, directed the location and orientation of the home with a surveyor’s precision. He was also the deciding vote for the exterior stone, the geological history of which he can expound in scientific detail at the slightest urging!”

Freese continues: “We dig deep to find the core idea of a project. As the inspiration was rural structures from generations back, the overall idea is a series of ‘homesteads,’ arranged according to their function and joined with small, flat-roofed connectors. Each connector is like an opportunity – a ‘moment’ – to capture and view the landscapes,” he says. “The overall floor plan, with its integrated angles, embraces the lakeside views and surrounding woods from each of the individual homesteads.”

Freese designed the central living/dining/kitchen homestead as a self-supporting timber structure, allowing for extra-large windows to connect directly to the timber frame on the lake side. Solid timber posts are also used throughout the home to support generous covered porches. 

Equally instrumental to the home’s success was the extended design and construction team. Susan Eddings Perez worked closely with the homeowners to create interiors that utilize modern, unexpected materials, such as reclaimed Oklahoma barnwood, resulting in open, airy spaces. Steven Williams, working with Kerry Blankenship, deftly crafted the surrounding landscapes with natural forms and compositions of color and texture. West Construction, with general contractor Dean West and site superintendent Todd Conley, matched the high level of design with an equally exceptional level of solidity, fit and finish.  

Freese and Williams collaborated to wed the home to the natural slope of the land. 

“We wanted to make sure the homeowners and guests had every opportunity to easily step out from their home to the various outdoor zones to soak in the compelling views of the lake and surrounding woods,” says Freese. “In addition to the primary porches and patios, the main wing and guest wing are connected by a community breezeway, with a commanding view of the lake. Every one of the three guest bedrooms has its own covered balcony.”

Lakeside living does indeed have its very special treasured moments, from sunrise to sunset.

The Home on the Hill

Photography by Adam Murphy

Nestled on a two-acre hillside lot, this luxurious dwelling fits seamlessly within its quiet Tulsa neighborhood. Designed by Philip Doyle, the home utilizes its difficult setting artfully.

“From the beginning, I wanted the hill to be an integral part of the home’s architectural design,” he says. “Typically, we build on a site’s highest elevation so we can enjoy the vista. But with no views to take advantage of and with over 35’ in grade change, most of the lot would be unused.” 

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Doyle placed the home two-thirds of the way down the hill and reversed the view.

“Essentially, it grounded the house and allowed nearly every room to enjoy a great connection and view to its surroundings,” says Doyle. “The steep, rolling site and its amazing landscaping became our vista. It also had the practical benefit of mitigating road noise from a nearby highway, and offered greater protection from the harsh western sun.”

The hillside lot, with its inherent privacy and mature canopy of trees, is now the perfect setting for the 6,000-square-foot, two-story residence.

Rich, natural materials are used throughout the home. The floors are slabs of Beaumaniere limestone and are juxtaposed against the dark honed walnut cabinetry. Native, smooth-cut limestone makes up the exterior walls. The roof is standing seam copper, with its eaves clad in planked white oak. The large doors and windows are powder-coated stainless steel. 

“Just like we wanted the house to complement the site, we strived for clean lines and detailing so as to not compete with the rich materials,” says Doyle. “The goal was to have a warm, contemporary house that can functionally accommodate large venues but at a scale that was comfortable for daily living.”

He credits a lot of the success of the house to the builder, the late Don Morrall, a long-time friend of the owner’s family. 

“His unwavering attention to the details made this home special,” says Doyle. 

Tulsan Clare Ashby added her talents as the professional landscape designer. The interior designer was Jill Croka, whom Doyle says has “impeccable taste and is always coming up with something creative and interesting, but timeless at the same time. Both Clare and Jill are professionals that I love to work with and just ‘get it.’”  

 Croka says: “The home is an excellent example of a secluded modern prairie home. It has clean lines, is so spacious and features natural materials. As guests approach the home, they really don’t see the majesty of the house; it is secluded by so many ornamental trees.” 

Perhaps equally as compelling as the exterior views is the home’s central art gallery. The owners are known by Tulsa art enthusiasts and dealers for their exquisite and versatile collection. 

While Doyle loves the entire outcome of the home, he has a few highlights.

“One of my favorite areas is the kitchen, which was done with the help of Scott Pohlenz. The Valcucine cabinetry is seeming simple but masterfully crafted,” he says. “The open stairs were another favorite detail that we labored over. I love how they come off as another piece of sculpture.”  

All in all, Doyle says this home holds special sentimental value to him.

“This was my longest project date, spanning over 7 years between initial design and final construction,” he says. “When it was finished, it was like saying goodbye to an old friend.”

Generosity of Space and Detail

Photography by Nathan Harmon

Kent Oellien, owner of Tulsa’s Oellien Design, Inc., describes creating this home as “a dream job.” Why? 

“We got to be both the architect and the designer for this luxurious home,” he says of an 8,000-square-foot dwelling built on two acres in a quiet, upscale neighborhood. He collaborated heavily with his associate, architect Robert Freeman, whom Oellien describes as “a critical thinker and a master at details. He studies the interaction between the architecture and the interiors; we balance each other in the office because I create the vision and he brings the details to life.”

Casey Goodwin of Goodwin Company served as the master builder. Joe Howell, a Tulsa landscape designer with Howell and Vancuren, created his exterior plan to complement the simplicity of the home’s architectural design.

The homeowners, both seasoned professionals in their fields, were specific about what they desired.

“The owners wanted their home to feel appropriate – to blend in well with the neighborhood. Yet they also wanted their home to be uniquely different and reflect their diverse personalities,” says Oellien. “They were very flexible during the process.” 

This was no small work order, but the team was up to the challenge.

The couple’s new home is now often an open door for visitors, frequently busy for client and public entertaining. Thus, the exterior and approach to the home is as inviting as the spacious and well-planned interior. Among the special architectural features are dramatic high ceilings, often containing subdued and inconspicuous LED lighting housed in the ceiling. Several rooms are enhanced by elegant, antique-style crystal chandeliers that add an essential touch of Old World glamour.   

An expansive lawn with mature trees surrounds the home, which also includes a pool and patio. There’s even a playhouse on the grounds, painted bright red and built especially for their grandchildren’s enjoyment.  

“This home represents luxurious living at its finest,” says Oellien, who incorporated a mixture of subdued textures to punctuate each area of the home – either in plush, comfortable furnishings or unusual accent pieces. Conversation worthy design features are scattered throughout the home. 

“In this home, luxury is defined by openness, simplicity and expansiveness,” says Oellien. “There is the feeling of a generosity of space and detail.” 

The home’s floors – a mix of white, rough cut oak and honed marble – add to the elegant yet subtle design drama. The walls also feature subdued, neutral colors. In the main living and entertaining areas, several comfortable seating arrangements provide ample space for guests. 

The dining area, adjacent to the main living area, features a handsome table seating 14, custom-designed by Oellien Design. It’s near the main living area, yet still provides a sense of privacy and comfort while dining. The custom kitchen, designed by Tulsa-based Jay Rambo Company, boasts Cristallo Quartzite counters. The master bedroom – with a custom closet and bathroom cabinets – offers a soothing view of the back lawn. 

The spacious entry is the surprise in the design. With a mixture of textures and colors, a painting, an antique chiming clock and a welcoming furry rug, who wouldn’t love to be invited to a special event in this home? 

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