With Jackie Tateishi
Imagine combining a quirky concert hall and a mid-century family home in the leafy Tree Streets of little old Provo, Utah. Meet the Maxfields: a musical couple who did just that. Andrew is a composer. Liz is a cellist. They’re the second owners of a 1950s home they call “The A-Frame,” a tiny landmark in Provo’s arts landscape.
It all started with an impending relocation, just as Andrew finished an MBA in Arts Management at University of Wisconsin–Madison. The couple searched online for a place to rent in Provo, where Andrew had accepted a job. With a baby on the way, it seemed wisest to find a straight-forward rental where they could get settled fast. But (in what only can be described as a cosmic twist of fate) Liz accidentally left the “Houses For Sale” box checked in the online “refine your search” options.
A house popped up with the usual features like bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen and … an “acoustically engineered music room.” In musician-speak, that translates to: hold my (root) beer—I need that!
Immediately, Liz in Wisconsin called her dad, who lived in Orem. He visited the “music house” that same day, and took his mother (Liz’s grandmother) for the tour. Together, they met Ephraim and Verena Hatch, the couple that built the house in the 1950s. As luck would have it, Liz’s grandmother discovered that the grand piano in the Hatch’s music room was the very same piano on which she had given piano recitals, decades earlier, in an old BYU campus recital hall (the Hatches had acquired the piano through a BYU surplus sale in the ’70s).
Meanwhile, Andrew and Liz booked tickets to visit the house in person. The Hatches were delighted that another “music family” might carry on the house’s legacy, and in short order an agreement to purchase the house – and piano – was reached. It was an emotional sale for the Hatches—both of whom were in their 90s by that point. They had raised six kids in the “music house,” watched the trees grow from saplings, and even helped build other houses in the neighborhood.
By 2012, the “music house” was fairly worn down, and despite the charm of the music room, the Maxfields anticipated a remodel project from the outset. Nevertheless, they lived in the house for a year before starting the remodel. Liz says that a year “is a good rule for remodeling your house, or getting married, or getting a tattoo—you want to have the same idea for a whole year and maybe longer.”
As a parting gift, the Hatches had given a copy of their family history—complete with many photos of the house in various stages of construction—to Andrew and Liz. But despite the glut of photos and helpful information, there were surprises ahead. Only after demolition began did they realize how crazy the project was.
Ephraim Hatch was a self-taught, thrifty builder. He worked with materials that were convenient or cheap, not often to “code.” Not only did he repurpose salvaged tin printing plates from the old BYU Press for a vapor barrier (where modern builders use Tyvek or building wrap), he packed old clothing into walls instead of insulation and improvised mechanical features (like boilers, radiant heat in a concrete slab, and more). Everyone agreed that the asymmetrical A-Frame music room was cool, but—even after consulting with two different structural engineers—no one could quite figure out why it was still standing, given Ephraim’s unconventional and slapdash building techniques. Every stage of the demolition revealed new mysteries and extended the timeline and cost of the remodeling project.
As the General Contractors on record, Liz and Andrew both did serious construction work, often with their baby strapped to their backs! Thanks to the help of family and friends, Liz says they stripped the entire house down to concrete except the music room, added a foyer and mudroom, replaced most of the framing, moved every window and door, rewired all of the electrical, installed all new plumbing, and added a bathroom in the basement. They wrapped up by doing finish carpentry in the music room, servicing the pipe organ, and (several years later) rebuilding the concert grand piano from the inside out. Just to give you an idea of the scope of the project: they have 6,093 photos of them working on the house. 6,093!
I wondered if Liz and Andrew ever got pushback from their extended families about the remodel, especially since their parents would’ve seen the full, uncensored havoc that goes along with any massive change-the-course-of-your-life project. Did their parents ever question the sanity of it? Or drop any soul-crushing, “we’re so worried about all you’re taking on with your young family” comments?
Liz says that not only did both their parents understand and support them through it all, but gutsy home renovation projects run in the family. Her own Dad once stood down bulldozers set to raze a five-story 1800’s plantation house in Maryland. After winning that confrontation, he then moved the home (YES, you read that right—he had the building MOVED) and restored it for his family to live in. Liz still remembers being five years old and riding on a portion of the house while it was being transported. Likewise, Andrew grew up in a 1920s home that his family renovated. So not only did they have the support of their parents, but their parents were terrific collaborators and co-conspirators.
With the dust settled for some time now, Andrew says, “The longer I think about it, after doing this remodel project, I feel like the job of architecture is organizing light and air. When we got the house, everything was dark and compartmentalized. With the low ceilings and old layout, it’s not like there wasn’t air in the place but it felt like there wasn’t. And so, everything we did inside and outside was looking at the passage of light and making it an open, comfortable place to live and breathe … and especially to make music.”
The couple succeeded. Now living in The A-Frame for a decade (minus a few years in Boston), the Maxfields have been hosting genre-spanning concerts in the music room for over eight years. Dubbed A-Frame Concerts, the concert series, which accommodates audiences of about 50 people, has hosted everything from chamber music to singer-songwriters to jazz to hip hop to theater to opera to dance. They’ve hosted the likes of Ryan Innes, Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards (broadcast live on the radio), Debra Fotheringham, and touring groups from Ireland, Scotland, and France (just to name a few). For more information, or to get on the guest list, send an email to email@example.com.