Home Days: Modern Masterpiece

Built in the 1980s, this former museum curator's Hunting Valley stunner is a work of art.

Henry Hawley has eclectic taste when it comes to art.

"I mix it all up," says the former curator of decorative arts at the Cleveland Museum of Art, who retired in 2002 after 42 years of service.

The Hunting Valley home Hawley shares with his partner of 50 years, George Vassos, displays a large collection of paintings, sculptures and furniture spanning nearly three centuries.

Modern, mid-20th-century chairs in the living room are situated next to an ornate, Rococo-style gilt-bronze clock by Jean-Pierre Latz, whose work was in demand from heads of state and European nobility in the mid-1700s. In the dining room, four Shaker chairs that accompany a table from the 1970s flank an ornate 19th-century French sideboard. And yet, they work together.

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"They have no choice," Hawley says.

When it came to designing a house that fit the duo's lives and their love of the arts, Hawley enlisted architect Stephen Bucchieri to create a unique space at the top of a hill overlooking the Chagrin Valley. The goal was to highlight the artwork with plenty of natural light, while providing ample views of the gorgeous scenery outside on the 5-acre wooded lot, purchased in 1983. Beyond that, Hawley says, "I was perfectly happy leaving the details to the architect."

Bucchieri, a 1991 Cleveland Arts Prize winner, earned two awards from the American Institute of Architects for his design, which was based on — but diverged from — a simplistic "nine-square plan." In other words, the home is shaped coincidentally like a giant Rubik's Cube (another '80s success story), but the individual "boxes" that make up the whole vary in size depending on their function.

Vassos' music room and the study above it are 12-foot squares with lower ceilings. Meanwhile, the main living space measures twice the distance and reaches two-stories high.

"The deliberately limited size and scale works well," says Hawley. "Especially for a household of two. It gives the space a more intimate feel."

The three levels of the 3,800-square-foot home are linked by a staircase under a central atrium, which allows a lot of natural illumination for the framed drawings and paintings. "White walls throughout the house make the space admissible to almost any kind of art," Hawley notes.

Simplicity and clarity of form may be some of the hallmarks of modern architecture, but they ran counter to the principles of the postmodern style of home building prevalent during what became known as "The Big '80s."

Business was booming, the U.S. population surged and Cleveland was on the doorstep of a renaissance. It was sometime during the next decade that the term "McMansion" was coined to describe the oversized properties that sprang up in the suburbs at the time.

"During the '80s, there was a lot of patchwork buildings and bright colors," says Bucchieri.

Hawley and Vassos' Hunting Valley space is different. It's a work of art.

"Modern design in Cleveland always breaks the mold," says Bucchieri. "There's very little of it here."

What's My Age Again?

These houses were built in different decades  but can you spot the spinster?

FRENCH COUNTRY "My love of France is so interspersed in everything I do," says interior designer Christine Haught, who settled into her four-bedroom Akron space seven years ago. She says the more than 4,000-square-foot home was "the only French country house I could find that I liked in Northeast Ohio at the time." ITALIANATE Karen Wise was searching for a spacious abode that wasn't shy on stylish details when she found this five-bedroom, 4 1/2-bathroom Chagrin Falls home. "I love the Victorian style," she says of the 5,658-square-foot dwelling. "There's a lot of exterior details and a lot of different colors." CRAFTSMAN The more than 2,000-square-foot abode "looks like it belongs out in California because of the stucco, the arch and the large bay window," says owner Beth Sersig of her four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bathroom Cleveland Heights house.   // James Bigley II

Answer Key: French country: New (2005); Italianate: New (1991); Craftsman: Old (1913)

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