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Live inside a work of art

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♦To see more photos of the Hanselmann house, go to Eric Thrasher and Aaron Hoover's website at www.visibilityfortwayne.com. Click on “Our Properties” and scroll down to 10220 Circlewood Drive.

♦Details on the house: The 2,886-square food house is 44 years old and has four bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths.

♦To learn even more about the house, just Google “Hanselmann house.”

♦Check out Michael Graves' website at www.michaelgraves.com/architecture. His portfolio includes both the Swan and Dolphin hotels in Walt Disney World.

1967 Hanselmann house's design was noted architect Michael Graves' first commission

Saturday, May 14, 2011 - 10:23 am

It's one thing when you hang an impressive work of art in your home. It's quite another when your entire home is a work of art.

Noted architect Michael Graves' first architectural commission, known as the Hanselmann house, is for sale here in Fort Wayne. Located at 10220 Circlewood Drive, it can be yours for only $279,900.

If it were in a larger market it would sell for more than $1 million, said Eric Thrasher, who is selling the home for owner Brad Finkel.

It is not to be confused with another famous Graves-designed home here, the Snyderman house, which was destroyed in a fire in 2002.

Located in the southwest Forest Ridge neighborhood, the uber-modern home stands in stark contrast with other traditionally styled homes in the neighborhood. The white-painted wood and glass structure, nestled on a wooded one-acre lot, is shaped like a cube in the front; the words “angular and geometric” come to mind when looking at it. An exterior stairway leads to a long bridge that extends to the front door. The exterior is mostly white wood and glass, but it's accented with bright yellow, vivid blue and chartreuse.

The house was commissioned in 1967 by Jay and Lois Hanselmann, who were high school friends of Graves in Indianapolis. It was finished in 1971 and the family lived in it for many years.

Finkel, the current owner, knew the Hanselmanns' daughter and thus knew of the house but had never been in it. When he moved back to Fort Wayne in 1990 he saw it was for sale and tried to buy it, but it had already been sold. He contacted the new owner and let him know of his interest in buying it. In 1995 that owner decided to sell. He contacted Finkel, who bought the house.

“I bought it on a Thursday and the next day I had a party with 150 people and a band,” Finkel said. “I wanted the neighbors to know I was here.”

By that time the house was almost 25 years old, so he set about renovation, replacing much of the flooring to the original red oak, scraping popcorn off the ceiling, and repainting areas to make the house as true to Graves' design as possible.

With its open concept, soaring windows and mostly white interior walls, the home takes advantage of the natural setting.

“It's a spiritual house to live in,” Finkel said, with its “sense of nature and indoor-outdoor blend.” Living there was “very quiet, peaceful and serene.”

Lending credence to his words, a hummingbird flitted about the exterior on a recent weekday.

The main living area — living room, kitchen, dining area and half bath — are on the second floor. Graves painted a mural on one wall of the living room that Finkel said is estimated to be worth $40,000 to $50,000.

On a trip back to Indiana in 2001 to participate in a fundraiser for the Snyderman house, which was empty at the time, Graves signed the mural at Finkel's house.

“He was very humble,” Finkel said. “He probably hadn't been in it in 30 years. He was just the nicest guy.”

The top story of the home is the master bedroom suite, open to the living room below. It includes closets, a full bathroom, a study and a balcony. The view of treetops, Finkel said, reminded him of living in a tree house. He said no alarm clock is needed — light flooding in from the east windows provides a wake-up call.

The ground-level floor has two bedrooms, sort of — the original pivoting walls have been removed — a nursery and another full bath that new owners would likely want to update. A basement provides storage space.

The house won a national American Institute of Architects Award in 1975. Much can be found about it online by Googling “Hanselmann house.” It's clearly revered by architects. But how practical is it to live in?

For Finkel, who was a bachelor when he lived there, it was fine. Families might want to make some modifications, however.

It doesn't have a garage, but Finkel said there's ample room on the one-acre lot, which a brook cuts through, to build one.

He said a good architect could build a garage to complement the style of the house.

The stairwell going to the master suite has no railing. In addition, one end of the living room is open to the stairwell going to the lower level. Furniture was situated along the edge to prevent people from falling into the stairwell, but people with children – or even dogs – might want to install modern railings.

It doesn't have air conditioning, and many of the windows that provide such glorious views don't open. Finkel said the house, which is all-electric, with radiant and baseboard heat, could be air-conditioned by installing a unit on the flat roof.

Another potential problem: some of the windows were fogged up and would need to be replaced.

Still, the floor plan seems livable and compatible with today's lifestyle. The u-shaped kitchen has ample storage, tons of natural light and a bright yellow refrigerator that matches the color of the inside of the kitchen storage cabinets. There's a deck off the kitchen for outdoor living. And the large expanse of interior white walls is the perfect backdrop for art.

Finkel moved out of the house in 2000 when he got married and moved in with his wife, who had just built a new house. He didn't try to sell the house right away. “I loved it so much I couldn't bear selling it,” he said.

“I'd like to find the right owner,” Thrasher said. On Thursday a group of local architects was coming over to tour the home. Thrasher, his partner, Aaron Hoover and Finkel all hope the new owner respects the architectural significance of the home.

Determining a selling price for the home “was a very complex formula,” Thrasher said. Most selling prices are determined by looking at comparable houses in the area, but what compares with such an eclectic home designed by a famous architect — particularly in a neighborhood of traditional houses?

Could it be possible that the modern, angular, quirky house peeking through the woods doesn't fit in such a traditional neighborhood?

“No,” Finkel said firmly, his passion for his house showing. “The neighborhood doesn't fit in with the house.”