Extravagant fireplace completes Darwin Martin House's first-floor restoration - The Buffalo News

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Extravagant fireplace completes Darwin Martin House's first-floor restoration

Twenty thousand.

That's about how many gold-infused glass tiles are in the naturalistic mosaic of branches, leaves and blossoms on the new fireplace in the Darwin Martin House.

The replica of the fireplace that  Frank Lloyd Wright designed more than a century ago took two years to make and cost $300,000. The installation of the bronze, gold and green-colored fireplace, which opens into both the living room and foyer, marks the completion of the first floor of the Martin House. The second floor is expected to be finished later this year.

"It's absolutely magical," said Susana Tejada, the Martin House's curator. "The fireplace blends in easily with Wright's whole design concept. I think it's the centerpiece of the house, literally and figuratively."

Detail of the glass panel on the fireplace at the Darwin Martin House. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

The fireplace is one of four in the Martin House, and it's the most extravagant.

The original was designed by Blanche Ostertag in collaboration with Italian glass artisans Giannini and Hilgart. Water damage caused the glue that held the glass tiles to the wall to collapse after the building was abandoned following the Martin family's departure in 1937.

[PHOTO GALLERY: A Closer Look at the Darwin Martin House]

Years later, HHL Architects found remnants of the fireplace in the ash pit while working on the building's restoration. The design was re-created using those small pieces, photographs and drawings, said Mary Roberts, the Martin House Restoration Corp.'s executive director.

Botti Studio of Evanston, Ill., fabricated the mosaic in consultation with HHL Architects and Martin House staff. The company used a similar approach as Giannini and Hilgart in applying liquid gold finish to every hand-cut, hand-fired and hand-applied tile.

"This is a very rare process," Roberts said. "It's a centuries-old glass artisan technique this firm is still doing."

The fireplace as seen from the music room at the Darwin Martin House. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

A full-size mock-up of the fireplace was built to help re-create all of the panels.

Roberts said Wright created an overall ambiance in the house by tying the fireplace to the gold mortar on the wall's horizontal joints, and the goldlike particulate mix into the paint finishes.

"The fireplace brings the colors and shapes together, the organic and geometric," said Caitlin Deibel, the marketing manager. "It really brings the room together, and shows how wealthy the Martins were and how elegant the entire estate is in one piece."

There's also something else new in the house – six functioning industrial ice-boxes installed in the kitchen that were conceived by Wright.

Major support for the fireplace restoration was provided by the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, following initial support by the East Hill Foundation.

Visitors to the Martin House on Thursday will be able to see the fireplace and walk around the Martin House Complex without being on a tour at the reduced rate of $1.50. The event  commemorates the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright's birth.

It's one of a series of events taking place next week to celebrate Wright's legacy at the Martin House Complex and at Graycliff, the Martins' summer estate in Derby also built by Wright.

[PHOTO GALLERY: A Look Inside the Graycliff Estate]

For more information, visit darwinmartinhouse.org or graycliffestate.org.

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