October 24, 2011
By Mary Jo Gibson
Serving as the Wright’s primary residence and studio from 1889 to 1909, the first 20 years of his career, the building contains all the early hallmarks Prairie Architecture. Leaded glass windows, intricate wooden grill work defusing light and built-in furniture. In all his homes, Wright designed the fireplace in a central location, saying “It comforted me to see the fire burning deep in the solid masonry of the house itself. A feeling that came to stay.”
Mr. Wright and his wife, Catherine Tobin, raised six children in this creative environment. The Children’s area of the house has two separate sections; the bedrooms are a subdivided room with a 3/4 wall separating the boys from the girls, then a narrow hallway that leads to the playroom; this open expanse dedicated to the smaller residents of the home truly makes the visitor feel their presence. With a three level balcony to provide seating for plays and other entertainments, a small grand piano built into the structure in order to keep the instrument from intruding on the space, built-in bookshelves and cabinets designed for the height of children, all hallmarks of Mr. Wright’s signature homes, developed in this unique architectural incubator.
In the studio Mr. Wright and his associates developed the new American architecture known as the Prairie style. An architectural laboratory used for the investigation and testing of concepts before sharing them with clients, and the philosophy of unified composition from exterior to interior.
The Home and Studio has been restored to the appearance of 1909, the last year Wright lived in the home and worked in the studio. A fabulous Ginkgo tree is part of the outdoor patio, one that has stood through history at this site, through the building of the home, the studio additions, the conversion of the building into apartments, and the final restorations.
The Robie House is undergoing a restoration with the updating of mechanicals, structural repairs, stabilization and conservation of the exterior of the building. A virtual tour including period photographs with furniture long since dispersed can be found at this link.
The unique circle within a square signature of Mr. Wright can be found in the smallest detail of light design to the large planters accenting both the home studio and the Robie House. Travelling through Chicago along Lake Shore Drive and into the museum district, new architectural accents developed in recent years continue this signature, showcasing the area’s influence by one of the world’s great architects.
I would like to thank Adam Ross for supplying me with photographs of the interior of the Wright Home and Studio, and our guides, Rachael and Joya. I look forward to a return visit and further exploration of the Oak Park Historical District.
Photo credits: Studio Ceiling and Octagonal Library, Don Kalec. Children’s Playroom, Hedrich/Blessing, all others author’s own.