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The open design of the adjoining living room and dining room were architectural innovations in 1940. “After the Depression and before World War II, when the home was built, extravagant room sizes were not the norm,” Peter says.
A Dunbar sofa and a view of one of two Barcelona chairs by German architect Mies Van Der Rohe are in the foreground. A contemporary painting by Peter dominates one wall, and an African mask hangs overhead; Peter calls these pieces outsider art, which are created by artists who are not widely known and have not had a formal art education. Such works include small sculptures of carved wooden figures.
The dining room table, designed by Isadore Shank, displays a vase by Finnish artist Alvar Aalto.
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A sloping ceiling with exposed wood beams and brick walls spans the living room. Peter’s mother painted the white and brown Mayan-inspired painting on brick. A self-portrait by German artist Rainer Fetting is above the left waist-high rectangular window, and a silk screen by Richard Cottingham hangs over the hearth. The glass-top table is by Japanese- American artist Isamu Noguchi, and Eero Saarinen, architect of the Gateway Arch, designed the red chair. The long shelf above the living room holds an ornately decorated building block from an Isadore Shank building and a sculpture Peter made in his youth.
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The kitchen also contains a collection of coral and mustard yellow Russel Wright American Modern dinnerware on original knotty pine open shelves.
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In contrast to the wide-open living and dining room areas, bedrooms in the 1,868-square-foot home are quite small. Peter believes the purpose of these intimate rooms was to maximize the space where the family would be spending most of their time. The home’s bedrooms are efficient in size and did not add unnecessary cost to building the home. Isadore Shank designed them all with large windows, which create the illusion of more space. Recessed nooks, which could double as bookcases, display small sculptures and do not infringe on the limited floor space.
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A chair next to Peter’s floor-to-ceiling shelf of art books is by Charles Eames, and enjoys the provenance that Eames actually sat in it. Eames and his wife created some of the most important furniture designs of the twentieth century, toys, and Los Angeles architecture, among other things.
“Eames was from St. Louis and good friends with our neighbors, and he was invited to a party in their home,” Peter says. The neighbor did not have an Eames chair, so he borrowed the Shank’s.
By Jim Winnerman
Peter Shank lives in a work of art.
His father, Isadore Shank, was on the forefront of modernist architecture in the late 1930s when he built the family’s home into a hillside that overlooks five acres of woods and two creeks in the St. Louis suburb of Ladue.
“When dad submitted the architectural drawings to the city in 1939, they were rejected as being too modern,” Peter says.
Extraordinarily innovative in 1940, the dining and living rooms in the Shank home flow into one another. Small, rectangular windows, some of them waist-high, frame views of the landscape like paintings. Peter says that when grade school friends visited the home, they gazed wide-eyed at the open space and exposed brick and beams and asked when the home would be finished. Just outside of the three-sided welcoming area in the living room, the high slanted-ceiling and open space come into view, producing the illusion that the home is much larger than it is.
Peter’s mother, Ilse, was a magazine illustrator for Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, and McCall’s. Peter and his brothers, Paul and Stephen, are all artists. As a result of such pedigree in the home, wall decor includes both recent and early paintings by Peter, works by his mother and father, and art by his brothers. Art by the Shank sons has been purchased for collections across America and in several European countries.
Isadore and Ilse lived in the residence well into their nineties, but it was not until Isadore died that Peter’s mother mentioned that she hoped one of her three sons would live in the house after her passing. Only then did the thought occur to Peter to purchase it from the estate.
When he bought the home in 1999, maintenance had been neglected. The roof and basement leaked, and a part of the porch had collapsed. But Peter knew he could make it a showplace once more, and he has, fulfilling his mother’s wish and his own desire to see the home return to its original pristine condition.