Special Sections » Home Design

Home Sweet Dome


Buckminster Fuller first envisioned geodesic domes as sturdy, easy-to-construct, low-cost housing for the masses in the late 1940s. His idea took hold in the decades following, and today the geodesic dome --- part engineering triumph, part philosophy-in-action --- is a symbol of an era when world peace was a goal, not just a logo.

            But none of this was on Mike and Jill Martin's mind when they first saw their geodesic dome home in Walworth. They had been looking at Cape Cods and other homes within their price range, but hadn't found anything that suited them.

            "My husband is six-foot-four," Jill Martin says. "We'd be walking through a Cape Cod and I'd be admiring the leaded-glass French doors and Mike would be getting hit on the head by the ceiling fan." The geodesic dome house, with its over-25-foot ceilings and wide-open space, is much more comfortable for Mike, she says.

            The dome sits atop a squared-off base that is punctured by a few small windows and the front door. You enter halfway between the downstairs bedrooms and the main living area. From the front door, you can see sunlight pouring into the main living space above from the three, six-foot-wide, hexagonal windows.

            Fuller was really onto something with these dome homes. Although the Martins' home is 1,600 square feet, it feels about twice or three times that size. Everywhere you look --- at the varnished wood hexagons that form the wall-ceiling panels; up toward the third-floor loft, where Mike keeps one of his two drum sets; or into the kitchen --- the walls seem to move. Space expands the more you look around.

Perhaps the man who built this house in 1987 was inspired by Fuller. According to Jill, he wanted it to be a prototype for houses in Gananda. "I don't know if you've seen the rest of the houses in Gananda," Jill says, "but this didn't fly."

            Their home might not be for everyone, Mike says. The hexagonal windows pose a problem, because the Martins can't find any curtains or shades to cover them. It's impossible to dust the ceiling panels, Jill says, but she's tried. The eight-sided kitchen made installing hardwood floors so challenging that the workman "went nuts, because he had to put in so many cuts," Mike says. And good luck finding a flat wall to hang a picture.

            "You have to have a lifestyle that lends itself to this house," Mike says. For the Martins, the house seems to work just fine. They entertain a lot, and their friends say they love to hang out there. Mike works at home and takes care of their son. "The open area is great for our son to play in. We don't have to chase him from room to room."

            After they moved in, Mike started reading about other geodesic domes and about Fuller. He's certain they've made the right choice in buying this unusual home.

            "We had friends with brand new homes with grand entrances in new tracts, but they were still cookie-cutter," he says. "As beautiful as they were, as much as they spent, it really wasn't us."

In This Guide...

  • Breaking the mold

    Three houses you won't find in a tract
    Anyone who has shopped for a house knows the process can be fraught with anxiety. The commitment.

  • The straw-bale house

    If you tell Sharon Kissack her house smells like a barn, she won't be insulted. She's in the final stages of installing straw-bale walls inside, and the scent of sweet, dry hay is just one of the advantages of her unusual choice of materials.

  • The Floating House

     "This is not a 'Hi honey, I'm home!' house," artist Annie Dunsky-Kälnitz says of her Pittsford residence. Pod-shaped and perched on 100-foot pylons on the side of a hill --- like a long-legged bug --- the house was dubbed the Floating House by its first owners.

  • Right under your nose

    Art furniture made here
    Art furniture made here

  • DIY: children's bedrooms

    I was cruising right along, hitting all the mile markers of adulthood --- finished school, landed a real job, bought a used car, got hitched, knocked up, the works. But no one makes it out of childhood without facing something that makes them say, "Whoa!