Stevens Signature Homes is the story of a legacy of residential design and building craftsmanship spanning across the generations.
Sean Stevens (right) is pictured here with his father Dennis (left) - with whom he apprenticed in residential design and building for the past 15 years - at the entrance to the subdivision Dennis began at the young age of 67.
Dennis envisioned building a community of unique architectural homes on the beautiful sloping hills just outside Boise, ID.
Stevens Signature Homes finds its roots in the architectural career of perhaps the youngest apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright - Arthur Dennis Stevens.
At the ripe old age of 17, just weeks before his high school graduation, Arthur James Stevens took his firstborn son, Dennis - a young aspiring architect - to visit Mr. Wright (as he was respectfully addressed) at the school he founded near Spring Green, Wisconsin called Taliesin in order to ask the master some advice on pursuing a career in architecture.
Dennis recalled Mr. Wright asking him why he wanted to be an architect - to which he replied, “There is nothing else I want to do!” Dennis then showed Mr. Wright some perspective drawings he had made in high school of a house in the framing stage. Impressed with his knowledge of how a home is constructed, Mr. Wright asked him to join them at Taliesin. Shortly after his high school graduation from Park Ridge High School (Park Ridge, IL), Dennis packed his things and joined the Taliesin Fellowship in the summer of 1948.
Taliesin near Spring Green, Wisconsin.
It was at Taliesin that Dennis learned the principles of organic architecture, together with dozens of other young men from around the world.
“What a man does, that he has.”
So read the engraving on a large wood beam in the drafting room at Taliesin. That principle was lived out at the school by requiring that aspiring architects first learn to perform the basics of the construction trades before drawing lines on a page and designing a structure - perhaps a principle derived from the famous adage attributed to Wright’s mentor, Louis Sullivan:
“Form follows Function”
Arthur Dennis Stevens at Taliesin West around 1950 where he studied with Frank Lloyd Wright
After studying with Wright and Taliesin Fellowship for some 5 years (1948-1953), Dennis spent a brief period in the U.S. Army near the end of the Korean conflict designing structures at a base in Northern Italy. After his time of military service was completed, he returned to his home in the Chicago area and began working with a friend and talented architect he met at Taliesin, Don Erickson. Architectural Enterprises, LTD was formed in 1953 in the State of Illinois.
The first home Dennis designed was for his parents who purchased land on Murphy Lake in Park Ridge, Illinois.
The third home he designed (pictured to the right) was added to the Highland Park, Illinois local registry of historic homes in 2012. The signature of Wright's architectural grammar was very evident in both homes.
The Wrightian influence is evident in Dennis’ third home in Highland Park, Illinois built in 1958.
Dennis' partnership with Don Erickson was formalized in 1964 with the incorporation of Erickson and Stevens, Inc. in the state of Illinois. They developed together what would be known in the Chicago area as the "Jamaica houses" which Dennis said was similar to a gambrel roof only upside-down and backward. They were called Jamaica houses because the first two were built in Montego Bay, Jamaica - one a hotel and the other a residence.
Pictured to the right is the interior of a home that Dennis designed as a spec home in a neighborhood in Palatine, Illinois in 1964. Dennis wanted to demonstrate that the unique architecture could be built at the same price point as more traditional designs. The home cost $40K to build in 1964 - about $325K in 2019.
Architectural and Affordability are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
This is the home where Sean Stevens was born and raised. It has been featured in several newspaper and magazine articles over the years. Several Jamaica homes were built around the Chicago area over the years, as well as Atlanta, Georgia.
One house in particular would gain national notoriety in 2012...
Stevens family residence from 1964-1999.
The house pictured to the right was built in 1981 for a client who wanted Dennis to design her a unique home. He told her she need to buy some land to build it on first! She found a beautiful wooded parcel in the village of Riverwoods, Illinois. The densely wooded lot gave the needed privacy to accommodate the generous use of glass - letting the outside in.
The house was awarded "House of the Year" by the Wall Street Journal in 2012.
The signature of the these pagoda roof structures includes elements such as:
The quintessential Jamaica house.
After their children had grown and left the home, Dennis and Jackie Stevens sold the Jamaica house in Palatine, Illinois and traveled the West as Dennis looked for a parcel of land to develop a dream he had been nurturing - to build a community of unique architectural homes. The coupled traveled to Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona looking for the land which could host the dream. After much searching, a friend of the family suggested they visit Boise, Idaho - to which Dennis replied "Where is that?"
In the summer of 1994, Dennis and Jackie made their first visit to Boise and were showed land by their realtor near the city. The land was too flat for Dennis. Dennis envisioned hillside lots with houses growing out of the hills in harmony with the land.
They were shown land that had just come on the market in Boise County, just 30 minutes from Boise. As Dennis headed out Highway 21 out of town and came over the top of the hill - revealing the mountainous Idaho back country - he remembered getting goose bumps.
He found the land he had been seeking in an area at the north end of Lucky Peak Lake near the Robie Creek boat ramp. He purchased the parcel in 1996 and used his surveying skills acquired during his army days to site some ten home sites and create a subdivision named Robie Springs.
In 1998, he taught himself how to use AutoCAD and generated the design for the first home on the land. He named the project "Cliffside" because of the steepness of the lot on the north side.
The home was completed in 2000 and became the Stevens family homestead. Sean made several visits to Cliffside with his family from out east over the next five years. It was experiencing the design, construction, and the grammar of this amazing home that awakened a desire in Sean to shift his career trajectory from software architecture to perpetuating the unique signature of architecture that his father created.
Sean and his brother Michael, who also has a keen eye for design, have spent countless hours working on drawings with Dennis for the hillside lots in Robie Springs.
"Cliffside" in Robie Springs - just a half hour away from Boise.
In 2005, Dennis and Jackie Stevens sold Cliffside to a couple from Southern California. They relocated to Colorado Springs, Colorado to spend more time with their grandchildren. Around 2006, their friend and realtor who sold Cliffside presented Dennis with an opportunity to design a home for a couple who had just purchased a lot overlooking Boise and the Treasure Valley. That meeting would become the catalyst for the passing of the baton to the next generation as Sean worked from his house near Charlotte, North Carolina with Dennis on the designs of the house. Sean was now the draftsman, and Dennis sat next to him and explained the "why" of every line that was drawn on the 15 sheets that comprised the working drawings.
Sean began to visit Boise with Dennis as the clients explored having Sean and Dennis build their home. Sean had already purposed to relocate to Boise in January 2007 with a view towards continuing to develop the vision in Robie Springs after his children graduated from high school.
After some revisions to the plans to align with the budget, the clients decided to not only invest in their home, but to make an investment in what would become Stevens Signature Homes by having Sean and Dennis build their house.
It was a "carpe diem" moment that Sean recognized would most likely not present itself again as Dennis was advancing in years. Sean unplugged from his IT career for a season and completely immersed himself in every aspect of the construction process from engineering to permitting to budgeting and scheduling....all the way to the H.O.
The C.O. is the Certificate of Occupancy - issued by the permitting authority certifying that the house is built to code and safe for human habitation.
The H.O. is the Happy Owner - evidenced in the smiles on the owners' faces when they have patiently waited and successfully navigated the challenging waters of building a custom home and move in!
At Stevens Signature Homes, our conviction is that a C.O. alone is not a measure of success. The Happy Owner is the only true measure of success when it comes to building a home that both satisfies the owners wants and desires and lives in harmony with the land on which it was built.
It has been Dennis' experience that clients become lifelong friends. Sean is finding this to be true as well.
This project was named Twilite by the owners for good reason
Sean obtained his private pilot license in 2000. When learning as a student pilot, it is imperative for the instructor and student to have a clear understanding of who is controlling the yoke and flying the plane in order to maintain safe and level flight. If the instructor needs to take control of the plane for one reason or another, he or she will say "my airplane" - signalling the student to release the yoke and let the instructor manage the controls. When the instructor is satisfied that their intervention is no longer needed, they will say "your airplane".
This home in the East End of Boise has become the last and final project that would enable Dennis and Sean to work together. The plans were originally drafted in 2014 as a collaboration between Dennis and the owner's late husband - who loved organic architecture. Unforeseen circumstances delayed the project until 2017. Dennis' health was declining, and Sean found himself saying "my airplane," re-drafting the entire working drawing set - bringing it up to date with current building codes, preparing the estimate for the project budget, submitting the plans electronically to the city's new online system (with the structural engineer's stamp instead of his father's architectural stamp), as well as managing the construction of the home.
Dennis died at the ripe old age of 88 in August 2019 before the project was completed. He died not having worked a day in his life - as he often said - because he did what he loved to do.
His memorial service was held at Twilite - where family, friends, and tradesmen gathered to celebrate his life in the space that he and Sean created together. Truly clients become lifelong friends.
As apprentices came from all over the world to observe Frank Lloyd Wright in motion, Sean is very grateful for the time he has been afforded to observe his father in motion...absorbing his way of thinking and seeing a structure while it is being both designed and constructed.
In addition to to investing in their home, these clients also made an investment in our legacy by affording Sean the opportunity not only to manage the construction of the home, but also do the trimming of the exterior and interior. Sean is now more intimately acquainted than ever with the craftsmanship required to execute some of the unique features of a Stevens Signature Home - and if not doing the trim work himself, will be managing it's quality closely in the future.
Carrying the legacy of beauty and affordability forward to the next generation.
Click the link below if you would like to see more images of the architecture of Arthur Dennis Stevens
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