In The Round

Homes: In The Round

In The Round

Unconventional architect designed circular Urbana home

Story: Jodi Heckel

Photos: Robert K. O'Daniell

Tucked into a neighborhood of modest ranches and contemporary-style homes, the John Garvey house blends in, despite its unique architecture.
But come closer and take a look inside — it’s round!

The Urbana house was built in 1954 for the late John Garvey, a University of Illinois music professor and founder of the UI Jazz Band. The home was designed by architect Bruce Goff, known for his creativity and unconventional designs.

The current homeowner, Dan Sostheim, bought the 2,550-square-foot home in 1993. “I just liked the space, the openness,” Sostheim said. “I knew when I walked in it was a great space. I hadn’t seen anything like it.”

Goff’s structures — mostly homes — were built from the mid-1920s to 1980. Goff taught architecture for a time at the University of Oklahoma; many of his designs were built in Oklahoma and several are in Chicago and the suburbs.

Goff’s designs have been described as “flamboyant,” “idiosyncratic,” and “iconoclastic.” He was influenced by architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan, as well as artist Antoni Gaudi, composer Claude Debussy and Japanese art.

An early design was the art deco-style Boston Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church in Tulsa, Okla., that was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1999.

One of his most famous creations was the Bavinger house in Norman, Okla., built in 1955. The structure is a spiral, supported by cables. Inside there were no rooms with interior walls. Instead, circular suspended platforms served as separate spaces, with curtains that could be closed for privacy.

Goff’s original design for the Garvey house called for an interior structure resembling a fountain, surrounded by a pond and spheres that served as individual rooms, connected by curving walkways. The original design was never built, but Goff drew a second design that was built for Garvey.

The living room is the focal point of the house, with all other rooms along the perimeter, surrounding the circular main room. The sunken living room is three steps down from the entry level of the house and features built-in bench seating, a free-standing fireplace and a wooden stage, presumably for Garvey to host musical performances.

The ceiling slopes up to a round skylight in the center of the room. The posts around the perimeter of the room are sewer tiles painted white, Sostheim said. When he bought the home, it had accordion doors around the perimeter to separate the bedrooms from the living room. Sostheim added drywall, pocket doors, glass block and two built-in aquariums.

The house had suffered extensive water damage. Sostheim re-upholstered the built-in benches, and rebuilt the steps down into the living room with polished aluminum tread plate. He remodeled the kitchen and bathroom, adding granite tile in the shower, new countertops and appliances in the kitchen.
He added new flooring and lighting throughout the house. He also built a large koi pond in the backyard and put a synthetic liner in the smaller, existing pond.
Sostheim, an artist, uses the stage not for music but as a place to work on his paintings.

“It’s such a big space, it makes you want to be in that room,” he said. “You gravitate toward it.”