Architect John Lautner spent six years under the apprenticeship of Frank Lloyd Wright at both Taliesin East in Wisconsin and Taliesin West in Arizona. During that time, he worked on drawings for Wright's Fallingwater house—Wright's most famous work—and the “Wingspread House” for the Johnson's Wax company owner.
After his apprenticeship, he started his own architectural firm in Los Angeles, designing organic modernistic homes. Many are all-concrete houses and some are regarded as famous homes today. In 1958, his cousin Ernest Lautner asked him to design a house for him on the Bayou Texar in Pensacola, Fla., that he would build with his son David. The instruction to John was to design a simple, easy to maintain structure.
The result is known as the “Round House”—an organic design that blends in with the natural landscape of the area—it's the only Lautner-designed home owned by the family. This two-bedroom home features 17-foot ceilings of glass and chocolate-colored brick. A central concrete core supports 34-foot-long wood beams that extend radially to support the roof. A basement under half the home contains a bomb shelter and a boat house. During the 1950s, fear that the Russians would detonate an atomic bomb in the United States caused many homeowners to include bomb shelters in their homes. (There are plans for them in early Concrete Construction issues). The shelter includes a 30-inch-thick reinforced ceiling, a hand pump well, electricity, a charcoal-filtered air system, pressure induced exhaust vents, and an escape tunnel.
Both Wright and John Lautner liked the look of colored concrete and often specified integral color and chemical stains for their projects. For the Round House, John specified chemical stain in part for its ease of maintenance. He told Ernest that occasionally waxing the floor would be all that was needed.
Doing the restoration work
Stephen Lautner, grandson of Ernest, says the concrete floor on the first level is still in very good condition with no cracks after 50 years. He credits this in part to two “finger beams” under the floor designed to control torque forces from winds and provide stability from subgrade movement. Stephen completed the restoration of the floor. Kemiko stain “Rust” color was used for the original work and Stephen says that he found one gallon of the original stain and wax on the premises. He was amazed to find out that the company was still in business after 50 years. The new color, “Cola,” was close enough to the original to use for the restoration work. Restoring the floor to its original luster was only one part of the restoration work performed on the whole house. But Stephen decided not to allow other trade work while he worked on the floor because he didn't want anything spilled or tracked on it.
To prepare the floor for a new stain application, he masked the cypress wood walls with kraft paper where they met the floor and then carefully applied a soy gel stripping solution to remove 50 years worth of old wax and residue. Then he sanded the floor, mopped it, and rinsed it with clean water. There were redwood isolation joints in the original floor so in order to protect them from the chemical stain, he carefully applied two coats of boiled linseed oil.
Next, he applied two applications of chemical stain one day apart using a sprayer. Stephen was concerned about possible footprint marking so he wore make-shift golf shoes during the staining process to avoid leaving any marks. After washing off the residue and neutralizing any acid from the stain, he applied wax to restore the original luster. He reports that the painstaking work, paying attention to the details, and all the planning paid off. The floors look terrific.