If architects were rock stars then I would have a poster of Frank Lloyd Wright hanging in my bedroom. Instead what I have is a magazine rack by his design and a replica of the statute that exists on his home.
Chicago is one of the premiere places in the world to experience everything that is Frank Lloyd Wright. Here you can learn about his life, family, and see his work up close and personal. It is even better than going to a museum because there are people still living in the homes he built and seeing them make the everyday seem so special.
Frank Lloyd Wright is credited with launching the Prairie School style of architecture and here in Chicago you can visit his home, studio, and then go on a neighborhood tour. This house started out as a simple shingled cottage that Wright at twenty-two years old built for his bride Catherine in 1889. For Wright it was a work in progress that he remodeled constantly until 1911, even though he left in 1909 to be with his mistress, who coincidentally was his mentor’s wife.
Wright didn’t just design the homes he designed many if not all of the features inside and outside including the future.
It’s all right there in Oak Park. It is a beautiful neighborhood and coincidentally is now famous for being home to the Obamas as well. Frank was so ahead of his time.
I have now been on the tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio twice, during my first and third trip to Chicago. However on my second visit I was finally able to take the Neighborhood Tour as well and that was a rare treat. If you walk around the blocks near the Wright family home (his mother lived next door) you can guess a few of the houses by his hand simply by the way they look. Others have special plaques or markers indicating their name, landmark status, and brief description. However by taking the audio tour you learn as you go and are led around a series of blocks that tell the story of the man and the houses. It is upon returning that you tour the home and studio.
It is so interesting what you are able to learn just by the tour guide you get. I got very different information from both and when it was all put together you can see the whole piece of the puzzle. The man who had created a family of six children with his bride, struggled to establish himself, and ultimately leaves to pursue his dreams despite the mess he leaves behind.
The houses are simply marvelous and I am only upset I couldn’t go inside each and every one. Inside his home the intricate personal touches he would become famous for. My favorite parts are the actually living tree in the middle of the house that connects the home and the studio. I also loved how he hid a full grand piano on a shelf above the stairs from the first to the second floor of the house. Now unfortunately photos aren’t allowed in the house so you will have to use your imagine for the time being. But suffice it to say that in every room Wright is there. The table and chairs in the dining room are hand carved and in each window you see the tell tail geometric shapes and colors that I would see in variations time and time again during my walk.
Unity Temple is a few blocks away from the Wright home. Wright was a member and was asked to redesign this church after a fire in 1900. This church is still groundbreaking even now, over 100 years later. During the neighborhood tour I passed it. I couldn’t resist so I crossed the street for a closer look and then decided to go inside. Unfortunately this was not my fate. The church was closed but at least I got some photos of it. This was the closest I have gotten. I suppose I will try again next time.
Thankfully Chicago is not home to the only Wright works. There are traces of him sprinkled all over the world. In New York City for instance, you can visit the Guggenheim Museum of Art and see the inventive way he set the bar for the future in terms of art displaying art.
If you are going to Arizona, anywhere near Scottsdale, you are really in luck because that is the location of Tallesin West. This was the core of Wright’s life beginning in 1937 when it was first built. Wright made this his winter home. Today this is the site of the site of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
This design is similar to the source of its inspiration, Tallesin I also known as Tallesin East. This estate is in Wisconsin and was the home Wright created to share with his true love, his mistress Mamah Borthwick, when then were forced to leave Illinois because of the scandal of their affair. Mamah’s two children often spent time there and happen to sadly be there during the worst possible moment. This home was completed in 1911 and in 1914 an employee is believed to have started a fatal fire that killed Wright's beloved, her two children, and four other employees. The motive has never been made clear. Wright was beyond devastated and to cope he eventually rebuilt this masterpiece and lived in it until he died at the age of ninety-one in 1959. To explore this story in detail you really should read the book “Death in a Praire House.” It is a quick and fascinating read. I have included the link below.
In Japan, you can stay at the Imperial Hotel, which was created by Wright and took eight years to build after his first visit there in 1905. Wright loved Japanese art and culture and when you visit his home you will see the silkscreen prints he brought back with him. The Imperial Hotel suffered from a devastating earthquake in 1923 and it is believed that Wright’s innovative design- having the reflecting pool in the center courtyard of the hotel so that the guests could have a view- saved it from collapsing or bursting into flames from the fires that occurred after it.
My most favorite Wright work has eluded me thus far. Fallingwater appears as breathtaking as it sounds. It was built in 1935 and the guest house was added four years later. This house belonged to the Kaufman family and the son, Edgar Kaufmann Junior entrusted it in 1963 to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Because of that generosity we all get to have a piece of it.
I am planning a trip this summer to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and I plan to make the ninety minute trip to Fallingwater as part of it. Fallingwater is the only major Wright house to open to the public with all of its furnishings, artwork, and setting intact. It is also the only house outside of Chicago that I am aching to see.
This dream home is more gorgeous than I can imagine and I know when I am in the presence of it and the beautiful grounds my soul will feel alive. It looks so peaceful and energetic. There is something about seeing the water pouring down like that. I look forward to standing there, taking it in, and taking my picture. For that moment I will imagine what a privilege it was to live there.
A little bit of trivia: his son John Lloyd Wright created the popular children’s toys; Lincoln Logs. That was something I learned on my first visit to his home. My tour guide pointed that factoid out and then of course showed me some Lincoln Logs that they had in the playroom.
Oh Frank you are the rock star of design.
I guess ingenuity runs in the family, however Wright or wrong.
For More on Frank Lloyd Wright:
For the Guggenheim:
For Robie House:
For Taliesin West:
Next up in my Chicago series is:
For a Wonderful Weekend in the Windy City Part VI: Future Itinerary