Newly married and living in Dupont Circle in 1986, Sue Rattner and her husband wandered into Sansar, a gallery that specialized in wood furniture, near their condo. They immediately were smitten with American Studio furniture and not long after, purchased their first piece, a coffee table with birch tree stump legs and an ebony top.
Collecting this furniture became their passion. When they outgrew their condo, they decided to build this home in Great Falls. They hired architect Robert Schwartz and told him their furniture would dictate the design. Spaces needed to be created to conform to the pieces — a curved wall for a Thomas Hucker chest that had been part of a Renwick Gallery exhibition, niches in the living room for Mark Sfirri’s whimsical tables, a foyer for John Dunnigan’s demilune table and mirror. And the house had to accommodate two children.
“We wanted to create a home, not a showcase, not a museum,” Rattner said.
The 11,014-square-foot house, which was built in 1991, underwent a complete renovation in 2011. Every floor was redone, every appliance was changed and many of the windows were updated. The home once had 105 windows, but now is down to about 90 after some were enlarged over the years. The whole house also was completely automated, and now can be run on a push of a button.
Rattner, the daughter of an architectural historian, was heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, which also controlled the design.
“It’s totally the wood feel,” she said. “The woods are not only within the house, but on the outside of the house.”
Beyond collecting furniture, Rattner and her husband commissioned artists to create pieces for them. Some of the artists’ drawings of their work are framed and hung in the house. The front door with its squiggles is an example of the free rein they gave them.
“We said to [artist John Dunnigan], ‘We want you to pique people’s curiosity to want to come in,’ ” she said. “Make a door that [asks], ‘What’s behind this door?’ and he did.”
Asked what she loves most about her home, Rattner didn’t hesitate.
“It’s that it’s usable,” she said. “We use this house. We did a lot of entertaining years ago. We had my daughter’s bat mitzvah there and several large parties. For me, it’s that it’s warm and inviting and that it’s unique. Even if it’s not to people’s taste, they walk in and they go, ‘Wow!’ because it’s so unusual.”
She also loves the outdoor space as much as she loves the indoor space. Her pride and joy is the koi pond with its two waterfalls.
Rattner believes pieces such as the Hucker chest need to stay in the wall that was created for it.
“A lot of the furniture will probably stay with the house because it belongs there,” she said. “My dream would be for us to pick our favorite things, the personal and small things, but leave the furniture where it belongs. It’s part of the house and belongs with the house, and as sad as I’ll be, I feel very strongly that it was made for the house and should stay with the house.”
For Rattner, selling the house is bittersweet.
“It makes me very sad to think about giving it up,” she said. “But my kids are grown, time moves on and it’s a big house. It was more than building a house. It really was our passion. . . . Hopefully, somebody who gets it will appreciate it and love it the way we did.”
The six-bedroom, 10-bathroom house is listed at $3.995 million.
Listing: 151 River Park Lane, Great Falls
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