STARTING THEM YOUNG
I had not really thought about it but apparently Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother was of Welsh origin and throughout the house there were small elements that paid homage to his heritage. A quote above the fireplace as you entered the house was one of these.
We were also told that his mother had been quite determined that he would be an architect and so encouraged him to play with construction toys and build things. I think she was also lucky because my children were also encouraged to play with Lego and constriction toys but my influence in this didn’t create two budding architects! I obviously was not determined enough in my encouragement!
THE MAN HIMSELF
I didn’t know anything about him prior to our visit and I learned a lot visiting the various sites we did but I also learned even more by watching the excellent TV series about the man which aired late last year (2012)
He actually was not a very nice person. He borrowed the money from his boss to build the house here and it was on the condition that he didn’t design anything other than within their company. FLW ignored this and designed quite a few houses in Oak Park and they were pretty darned obvious as the style was unique . Needless to say the boss was not thrilled and I believe he parted company with Wright.
He wasn’t much of a father either and spent very little time with his children and they were brought up by his wife it seems. He was also a pretty poor husband having affairs and he wanted a divorce for years but his wife refused. Eventually she gave in and he married his mistress of many years and built the house of his dreams called ‘Falling Water’ but that is another story.
THE PRAIRIE STYLE
I have already reviewed the house his designed in Springfield known as the Dana Thomas house in this Prairie style which was Wright’s style his was most famous for and this house is very similar but it is smaller as it was not created for a socialite but as a family home.
His inspiration for this style comes from the flat expansive prairie landscape which was where he grew up. He says of this landscape;
"The prairie has a beauty of its own and we should recognize and accentuate this natural beauty, its quiet level. Hence, gently sloping roofs, low proportions, quiet sky lines, suppressed heavy-set chimneys and sheltering overhangs, low terraces and out-reaching walls sequestering private gardens."
These are many of the elements he tried to create in his designs. He was the inspiration but in his studio he had a number of draftsmen following his instructions. I think what makes these so very different is that at the time many homes in America were designed as versions of houses in Europe and these were uniquely American inspired.
They combined simple lines with features that were not only functional and inspired by nature but were also quite beautiful too. From the outside the houses look a bit functional and there is not a lot to attract you but once you start looking more closely there are so many clever features. I particularly like the way he manages to capture outside light inside the houses.
This is a typical Prairie style house with an obvious low horizontal line created by low-pitched hipped roof, long bands of windows, wide overhanging eaves and brick courses or wood bands. It looks as though it would be very private and the windows look dark from the outside. There are often a series of layers all low with flat or low pitched roofs.
However once you are inside somehow the rooms give the impression of open spaces and the windows as well as the under roof windows let in plenty of natural light. The floor plans are quite open plan and the rooms radiates outward from a central fireplace.
FLW didn’t just design a house or building then let the owner buy furniture as they chose. The furnishing and fittings were all part and parcel of the creation. Many units are built in and integral to the building and others were designed for a specific space. They fit in the house and belong with designs on the chairs and tables to echo those in the room on the walls and light fittings.
All the construction materials and finishes are natural. He uses a lot of native wood and glass. The windows and room dividers are usually glass but with elements of stained glass designs which reflect the natural prairie with sumac ( looks like wheat grass) as one of his main ornamentation designs.
HIS FIRST HOME
The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio: The house was built between 1889 and 1898 and it was both his home and studio until 1909. He was only 22 when he designed and had this place built and the loan from his boss was for $5,000 a lot of money at the time I would imagine. He added the separate studio next door in 1898 and it is from this studio that his unique ‘Prairie style’ of architectures developed. Wright designed about 125 buildings in this famous style.
Wright was married and had six children who were born and raised in this house. This first wife was Catherine Tobin.
The house and studio is now restored and it is this house combined with studio within the house that visitors can visit. The house has been restored as was appeared in 1909, which was the last year that Wright lived in the Home and worked in the Studio.
This place was his "‘architectural laboratory, experimenting with design concepts that contain the seeds of his architectural philosophy". The studio was described by a fellow-architect as a workplace with "inspiration everywhere."
The house and studio were put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and then declared a National Historic Landmark four years later.