Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

Museum Monday

October 24, 2011

By Mary Jo Gibson

 

Frank Lloyd Wright, 1867-1959

On a crisp autumn morning I toured the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois and the surrounding neighborhood.  The monies used to purchase this property were given to Mr. Wright by Louis Sullivan, the preeminent architect of early Chicago, with the stipulation that Frank would work only for him.  But as the neighborhood grew, Mr. Wright’s ‘bootleg’ houses began to spring up, adding to the unique flavor of the area.  Containing the largest concentration of Wright-designed structures, homes in tune with their natural surroundings, the area is designated the Wright Prairie School of Architecture by the National Historic District. 
 
 
 
 

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.

Home in the Oak Park neighborhood
 

Oak Park Neighborhood

 
 
The Moore-Dugal Residence located across the street from the Wright home was completed in 1895.  It was Mr. Wright’s first independent commission in Oak Park after leaving the employ of Adler and Sullivan in 1893.  In 1922 a spectacular fire destroyed the third and fourth floors of the home.  Wright returned to Oak Park in 1923 to redesign and rebuild the home for a second time.
 

Moore Dugal Residence
Moore Dugal Residence
Moore Dugal Residence
Robie House

  
 
 
  The Robie House, located on the campus of the University of Chicago, sparked a residential architecture revolution; featuring dramatic overhangs and continuing bands of stained glass windows dissolving the barrier between interior and exterior; this home is listed by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 10 most significant structures of the 20th century.  Designed at the studio in 1908 and completed in 1910, the home offers many unique ‘firsts’ of the day.  The garage area contained a mechanic’s pit and a car wash, all outer doors along the play area have only interior handles to provide safety for the children, a special cement floor and steel beam supports were unprecedented developments for the time. The steamship design fits perfectly into the rectangular lot, and the elevated living area with their ‘walls’ of stained glass do not offer street level viewing of the occupants in the home.  Mr. Wright saved this cornerstone of American architecture from the wrecking ball twice.
 
 
 
 

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.

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Tour

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3 Comments

Filed under October

3 responses to “Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

  1. Pingback: Blog Treasures 10-29 « Gene Lempp's Blog

  2. Karen Montieth

    I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Museum/Home and Studio and walking the neighbor. Thank you for a very nicely done review! Karen

  3. Thank you, it was a pleasure introducing my daughter to such wonderful sights.

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