Ross Township couple’s geodesic home blend of uniqueness, conventionality
By DONNA TALARICO For Times Leader
“We put it together like Tinkertoys.”
If a house shaped like a baseball is on a hill, won’t it roll down?
That’s what one little boy wondered upon seeing the circular house going up down the street. In fact, a state salt house, a golf ball and Epcot Center also are things this particular Ross Township dwelling has been likened to. But to Frank and Joan Roginski, it’s merely home.
There are many ways to refer to the home, which the Roginskis say has become the landmark for direction-giving in the rural area: round, spherical, circular and domed. But the official term for the dwelling is geodesic.
According to Timberline, the geodesic manufacturer from which the Roginskis bought their kit, the home was patented in 1959 by mathematician/philosopher/engineer Buckminster Fuller. Fuller’s quest was to find a home that would be efficient and use fewer resources as a solution to cope with the world’s growing population.
That efficiency is what made Frank Roginski, who spent 38 years working at PPL, consider the geodesic home when they decided to move from Trucksville to build on their 10-acre Ross Township lot. They do, however, also enjoy that their home is so different.
“We looked at magazines and visited several homes of this type and decided we’d go with this style,” he said.
So they ordered the kit from California and, for the most part, put it together with help from friends and family. They enlisted contractors for a few aspects of the project. Although the house appears round at first glance, the home is actually made up of pentagons and hexagons.
“We put it together like Tinkertoys,” he said, adding that the kit was made up of 2-by-6s, all precut and predrilled.
The kit also came with metal hubs that all the pieces were hooked into. The couple shared a photo album of the process, displaying the framing procedure, which, as Frank Roginski put it, worked liked Tinkertoys. That, or a mini-scale version of the Epcot Center dome.
The frame, of course, did not go up without the foundation and cellar, which Roginski dug himself. Finding a mason, he recalls, was a tough task.
“One of the biggest challenges from the beginning was finding a masonry contractor to do a 15-sided house,” he said.
Eventually they found one to cut the 12-inch concrete blocks to make the many sides.
“It has proved that it is energy efficient. …Our electric bill was only $1,800 for this whole year. That’s real good.”
Roginski elaborated on the low annual cost, saying the entire house is electric, and they have computers and televisions on all the time for the grandchildren. But they use the stone-faced fireplace with the knotty-pine-sided chimney to warm the home, only using the electric heat when it is “really cold.”
Timberline explains that dome-shaped homes have about one-third less surface area to the outside than traditional box-style structures, making it more efficient to heat and cool. Also, the manufacturer explains, there is less heat loss from the foundation of a dome home.
The couple began the home in 1987 and moved in in 1988, though the finishing touches still needed to be put on.
Upon entering the home, visitors soon realize the home’s size is deceiving from the outside. The home is 45 feet in diameter, and the first floor and basement are 1,550 square feet. The second level is smaller, at 750 square feet, allowing for cathedral ceilings and a loft. First floor to the fan atop the knotty-pine ceiling encompasses 27 feet.
On the first floor are two bedrooms, a full bath with his-and-her sinks and a living area that make up the perimeter. The kitchen is in the center, with a window to a breakfast bar.
“It’s really a normal kitchen, just your basic cupboards. It’s just the way they are set,” he said, referring to the corners.
Joan Roginski says the grandchildren love the shape and often run around the circle.
When a visitor stopped in recently, Matthew, one of seven grandchildren, proved his grandma right.
“Like an indoor track,” a photographer joked as he snapped a shot.
One of the couple’s favorite things about the home is a colorful wall decoration. Halfway up the wall in the living area is an 18-foot-high, pentagon-shaped sunburst, made of hand-cut ceramic tile in blue, red, orange, yellow and white. Joan Roginski says her husband did the tiling himself, inspired by a picture in a magazine.
Another feature they are fond of is the spiral staircase, which Frank Roginski says was another challenge.
“We wanted a spiral stairway, but we couldn’t find a local person who could do it,” he said.
“Don’t ever tell us we can’t do anything,” his wife added. “We’ll find a way to do it.”
Determined, the couple finally found a contractor who could bend the metal rails and handrail. Then, Roginski laid the oak steps himself. He credits local woodworker Bob Mahoney with making the spindles.
“He is quite the woodworker. All the spindles are handmade. Not one is alike,” he said.
The spiral staircase leads to a loft, which has a magnificent view of the sunburst and the rest of the living area. It is from this view, too, that those inside get the best view of Joan’s deer collection, in a lighted display case mounted over the living-room windows. In the case and throughout the house, she has more than a hundred, the first bought by her husband at the Bloomsburg Fair when they were dating.
“We were still going together; it was about 50 years ago. That’s what started the collection,” he said.
The second floor contains a second full-bath and two bedrooms. Roginski says the ceilings are high enough to have a third floor, but they opted for the higher ceilings. The roof has several triangular skylights, and the amount of light they allow to shine in means virtually no lights need to be used during the day. That energy-efficiency again makes the Roginskis happy.
“The windows follow the sun around, and the fan circulates the air. It all helps with efficiency,” Frank said, adding the ventilation also keeps the place cool in the warmer months.
The couple say they enjoy their home, but no new projects are in the works, as they are rather busy for retirees.
Frank is still doing work for PPL and is captain of the Sweet Valley Fire Police. Joan baby sits her grandchildren and is an active volunteer with the fire department, her church and on the board for Penn State University’s Cooperative Extension. The couple also hold PSU football season tickets.
Whether passersby compare the house to a ball, a bubble or an igloo, a closer look shows extreme craftsmanship, lots of creativity and a place in which this retired-yet-busy couple can take satisfaction.
“We’re proud of it. We did so much of the work ourselves,” Frank said.
Did we mention the house has a round driveway?
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