In the residential western suburb of downtown Chicago is the neighborhood of Oak Park, which is home to the house and studio of one of America’s greatest Architects, Frank Lloyd Wright. I took a walking tour of the house recently, and my first impression on seeing the outside of the house is that it looked like any other suburban house.
It is easy to forget that the house was built in 1889 and that the design was revolutionary for it’s time. Frank LLoyd Wright’s ideas are so embedded in architecture that the open, light filled floor plans that are prevalent in almost all home designs today were new during the late 19th century – up until then, the Victorian style of individual box rooms were how most homes were designed and built.
Frank LLoyd Wright was one of the pioneers of the Priarie style architecture. What this means is that the houses were designed to be low so as to blend into the low-lying Mid-Western priarie landscape. There is an organic look to the buildings as though they naturally come up from the land.
Below is a sitting area as you enter the house. The horizontal wood panelling throughout the house gives the interior long, lean geometric lines.
To solve the problem of clutter, storage drawers were incorporated underneath the green velvet sitting area.
Inside the dining room, the box like effect of the rectangular table and the chairs around the table were meant to have the effect of sitting in a room within a room.
The master bedroom was designed to let in lots of light. Closets in the house were shallow because hangers had not been invented yet so clothes were either hung on pegs or folded. There are two paintings of American Indian’s in the master bedroom, one over the patio door and one on the opposite wall. The bathroom attached to the bedroom is the only bathroom in the house. There is a window that allows in light. The window, however is positioned so that no one can look in, giving privacy.
I think the prettiest room in the house is the play room. Frank Lloyd Wright and his wife Catherine Tobin had six children, so they needed a playroom. This room is unlike any playroom I have ever seen. On one end is a fireplace with a newly restored decorative mural on the wall above and on the other end there is a gallery on a second floor for performances by the Wright children, who were all required to learn musical instruments.
What surprised me about my tour of the home and studio is how modern the house felt. Even though I was stepping back in time, as I walked around the house, I became more and more comfortable, perhaps because I saw so many parallels between the design of this house and modern day architecture. Some aspect of Prairie style is in all house designs the open floor plans, the light filled rooms, the perfectly aligned windows, the woodwork. Frank LLoyd Wright was a pioneer and a visionary.
Frank Lloyd Wright-Home and Studio, 951 Chicago Ave, Oak Park IL 60302 www.flwright.org