On a recent trip to Chicago, Chelito and I found ourselves with an afternoon free so we hopped the Metro to Oak Park and took a tour of the first home that Frank Lloyd Wright built. The city has really found a way to make sure that his work and influence has remained respected. The entire neighborhood is littered with Wright’s architecture as well as many of his contemporaries. There are walking tours of the area which include sculpture tours and the childhood home of Ernest Hemingway.
A view from Chicago Ave. of the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park. In the foreground is the Studio Entrance.
One of the sculptures that flanks the entrance to the studio.
A view of the house from Forest Ave. showing the entrance.
The property of the house has lived many lives. It was a space that was always evolving when he and his family lived there and once they sold the house and moved on, people came and made changes. By the 1970′s, the house had been divided into 7 separate small apartments and many of his original details had been covered up. Beginning in 1974 (and lasting 13 years), a team took on the task of restoring it and chose the last year that Wright and his family lived in the home (1909) as the best date to return to. The house is restocked with furniture that best represented his work during that time and a few pieces were returned to the home from the family.Wright built the house in 1889 and lived there growing his family and the property until 1909.
It’s here that he dabbled into an architectural past and began setting the tone for his future. More than 125 homes were designed here most within the Prairie Style that began his career. Though the house itself is not incredibly large, he makes the best use of spaces by pushing out bay windows and raising ceilings to let light into available spaces. He begins to play with the height of transitional spaces (low ceilings in a hallway to tall ceilings in the attached room), and allowed for natural light without having to stare out at the street level, by adding windows high on the wall.
The Dining room ceiling. This light fixture is the same width and length as the table beneath it.
The Master bedroom is the first of three rooms with magical qualities. It is here that layers and layers of paint were removed to reveal some incredible original murals, painted by his friend and co-worker, Orlando Giannini (1895). They reflected the Indian heritage of the land and personified the idea of the prairie. The simplicity of the incredible images offered him a calm way to begin and end each day.
Bedroom wall mural by Orlando Giannini
This mural is in the Children’s Play Room and is also by Orlando Giannini.
The play room for the kids is a grand space that feels like a church or auditorium complete with an elevated space for a stage. This room also houses the orignal grand piano which sits flush to the wall so that most of the pianos structure is hidden by suspending it from a hook into the unused space above the adjoining staircase. It’s not surprising that one of his children, John Lloyd Wright, went on to create Lincoln Logs.
The Children’s Play Room. *photo by Hedrich Blessing
Finally, we entered the studio space or Drafting Room. With it’s incredible suspension harness of chains that holds the structure of the place together. The creativity of this space can breathe new life into you and you understand instantly how Frank Lloyd Wright gave his team an unprecedented space in which to strive beyond what they had known possible.
A view of the studio from above. *unknown source of photo
Side by Side at the Studio entrance.