September 2007 Issue
At Home in the Heart of Campus
Wright State University's new first family settles in at Rockafield House, a residence that serves as both a private retreat and a public gathering spot.
The entrance to Rockafield House is a footbridge.
This is appropriate, since the official president's residence is the physical connecting point between the public and private lives of the first family of Wright State University, in Dayton.
On October 5, Wright State's sixth president, Dr. David Hopkins, will be inaugurated as the university celebrates its 40th anniversary. Work on redecorating and updating the university president's residence, Rockafield House, however, is already well underway to accommodate the Hopkins family, as well as the university visitors and functions they host.
Hopkins and his wife, Angelia, have six children, two of whom are still young enough to live at home. Son Alex, 13, and daughter Nicole, 12, were included in redecorating decisions. "I want them to feel that this is their home," Angelia Hopkins says.
The family came to Wright State in 2003, when David Hopkins was selected as provost, and lived in suburban Centerville before moving onto Wright State's campus.
"My family and I feel very honored to…live at Rockafield," says David Hopkins. "It is a very special place in the 'heart' of our campus. Living on campus allows our entire family to be intimately involved with all aspects of a vibrant university and student life."
The story of how Rockafield House came to be home to a succession of Wright State University presidents and their families dates back to the early 1960s, when the university's board of trustees secured 600 acres of land — a combination of undeveloped farmland and untamed pine forest in the northeast corner of Dayton — to build an institution of higher learning.
In designing the school, Cincinnati architect E.A. Glendening looked for ways to embrace the future in the architecture of its buildings, including the president's home. Public funds and private donations were used to build the residence, which cost just under $200,000.
The resulting Rockafield House (the name derives from a family burial site, Rockafield Cemetery, built on the property by an early landowner) is a composition of interlocking solids and voids, geometric in nature. "My style is a little less Cubist now than it was then," Glendening says. "Rockafield is still one of my favorite works."
The home was completed in 1969 and won highest honors in Ohio from the American Institute of Architects in 1970. The 6,000-square-foot space is equally divided between public and private uses, with flexibility in mind.
The emerging environmental consciousness of the era is apparent in Glendening's decision to preserve the home's natural setting and in the materials used to build it. The home's stained gray cedar exterior, for instance, is designed to weather naturally. "The house is built around the views and access into the woods at different levels," Glendening explains. "Terraces and balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows, courtyard, planes of light. Selecting the views was an important part of the project."
Though each family who has lived in Rockafield House has personalized the décor to suit their tastes, interior design elements of the 1970s that remain — and have stood the test of time — include the use of natural stained walnut for built-in furniture components, a sunken living room and mosaic tiles in the bathrooms.
A long, winding driveway leads up to the home, which is perched in a glen, over a creek, and is larger than it seems at first. The entryway leads to a long hall that is tiled in Ohio blue slate.
Angelia Hopkins has chosen warm, traditional furniture and colors to decorate the living room, using leather and wood accented by textured, woven fabrics. "The woods outside provide us with enough green and gold [the school colors] to look at," she jokes. "I have chosen just what we need to give us some cozy spots for conversation."
Artwork in the living room includes charcoals and pen and ink on paper works borrowed from the permanent collection of the University Art Galleries. "I asked Tess Cortes, galleries coordinator, to help me choose things done by our faculty and students. There are many more and I will rotate these with others as the years go by," says Hopkins.
Up the stairs, toward the dining room, there is a niche just large enough for an armless settee. Above the settee hangs an arrangement of pictures of each of the university's six presidents.
One of the first functions the Hopkinses held at the house was a family reunion dinner. The original table and chairs designed for the space, which seats 20, remain in use. Official china, selected by third university president Paige Mulhollan's wife, is used on special occasions. On average, two university functions and one community gathering are held each week at the residence, with groups ranging from several guests to more than 100.
"The ability to host multiple groups with lots of different requirements is a real asset," Hopkins says.
The 20-by-20-foot kitchen features custom walnut cabinetry with stainless-steel accents and a 10-foot-long island. A table for six serves as a breakfast area for the family and a staging spot for plates going into the formal dining room.
With five bedrooms and six bathrooms, the home is large enough to accommodate family, extended relatives and official guests. Nicole Hopkins chose a bedroom suite on the top level and selected her own paint and furniture. The apartment on the lower level of the home, which has its own recreation area, study space and even a small kitchen, is perfect for Alex. "He and his friends are musicians, so this gives them room to spread out and do their thing," she adds.
Two bedrooms are designated for guests in the south wing of the house. Hopkins gave one of the rooms a Wright Brothers theme and decorated it with a wall of historic photographs of the famous duo, including one of Orville at the White House. (The originals are in the archive at the university library.) The other guest room has a WSU Raiders sports theme.
The master suite has walnut built-ins for clothes storage, books and media, plus a large bathroom with a dressing area, and an adjoining room where Hopkins has established her office. Outside the master suite is a casual sitting area that looks out to a courtyard.
"This is a very flexible space. Eventually, I'd like to make it a private retreat," Hopkins notes.
The whole family will be present at Dr. Hopkins' inauguration; his children will introduce him. One of the Hopkinses' goals is to make Rockafield House a gathering place for the extended Wright State community.
In other words, they hope the heart of the campus will become the heart of the community.