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Published: Sunday, 1/2/2005

House's lines go around the bend

BY KEVIN KIRKLAND
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

Often, employees who think "outside the box" are applauded.

But when an architect abandons the box that has been the basic form of Western architecture for thousands of years, he's pretty much on his own.

Matt Schlueb, 36, doesn't mind inhabiting that territory, and the house he built for himself and his family reflects it.

Whether described as looking like a cluster of Tupperware containers, something out of The Jetsons, or a fairy-tale cottage, the house, named Villa Vuoto, is unique.

"I wanted to build a house that didn't have any right angles," Mr. Schlueb said. "My two pet peeves are the color white and 'the box.' "

It's difficult to find either one in the 2,400-square-foot house Mr. Schlueb just completed on a wooded hillside lot in suburban Pittsburgh. He and his wife, Julianne, and nearly 2-year-old son, Oskar, moved recently after 2 1/2 years of construction.

The house is based on circular and conical forms (minus the points), shapes favored by the Adena Indians who populated the Ohio Valley 2,000 years ago.

The windows are round, the walls are curved, the ceilings are sloped.

Because he wasn't building a rectangle, Mr. Schlueb decided to forgo rectangular building materials such as brick or siding in favor of stucco. In addition, stucco and plaster, its interior counterpart, can be tinted.

Mr. Schlueb initially planned to use only synthetic stucco, a lighter, more flexible acrylic-based alternative to conventional stucco.

Synthetic stucco appeared first in Germany in the 1950s but caught on in America during the building boom of the 1980s and '90s in the South and Southwest.

After tens of thousands of houses were covered with the material, the complaints started to roll in, resulting in lawsuits and a class-action suit against manufacturers, builders and installers.

The problem was moisture getting behind the stucco through the edges of doors and windows and other openings.

Trapped there, it rotted the wooden studs and other materials.

By the late 1990s, after paying millions of dollars in judgments and settlements, manufacturers had designed new systems with drainage channels to allow moisture out.

Although combining synthetic and traditional stucco is unusual, Mr. Schlueb used the synthetic material on the lower, more vertical, portions of his house and conventional stucco on the curved upper portions.

And the colors? All were selected by Mrs. Schlueb except the dark green trim, dictated by the limited colors available on the windows.

The exterior walls are two shades of gold broken up by sections of brick red and a red tile roof.

Inside, the gold is repeated in the kitchen, but the rest of the first floor is deep purple, a color that continues up the stairway.

Three bedrooms are shades of blue, red, and green, and the two full baths and a walk-in closet are blue, yellow, and aqua, respectively.

Mr. Schlueb, who was both architect and general contractor on his home, said some contractors took one look at his design and were never heard from again.

But he said he was pleasantly surprised at how many put in bids on the job.

"I wanted contractors who were willing to take a chance," he said, "the ones who were eager and wanted a challenge got the work."

One key contractor was the plasterer.

Crews ranging from four to eight men worked almost a year on the exterior stucco and interior plaster.

"We used all of our tricks on this job," said Harry Stites, owner of Steel City Plastering. "We can hold our heads up high on this one."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Kevin Kirkland is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.



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