“ Address: 951 Chicago Avenue / Oak Park / IL 60302 „
Frank Lloyd Wright House and Studio
951 Chicago Avenue
Oak Park, IL 60302
We had planned to visit Oak Park while we were in Chicago but as we had given in the rental car and we were not sure how easy it would be to get from the train station to the house plus we found so many other things to see and do in Chicago so we decided not to bother.
We then thought it would be a perfect place to visit on our way back from the hotel we were staying in at Elkhart Indiana as we had to be at the airport by 5 pm. This would be a perfect place to visit as it was pretty close to the airport as we wanted to be close before stopping to do things just in case there was a car problem or similar.
I'll be honest and confess to knowing very little about Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) apart from the fact he was an architect and Paul Simon sang about him. When we were planning this trip we found a few places that he had designed and added them into our itinerary.
The house and studio are in a very nice suburb of Chicago and a very residential area. It is easy to find but parking is on the street so you need to go down one of the side streets and read the signs carefully to avoid getting a ticket.
The museum shop and ticket office is Open daily, 10 am to 5 pm.
The home and studio closes at 5pm on Sat and Sunday
The house and studio is open daily: 11 am - 4 pm and tours take place at Weekends, approximately every 20 minutes. On weekdays they vary and from late November - mid-March they are hourly.
From mid-March - mid-June they are hourly and 20 minutes past the hour
From mid-June - August they are every 20 minutes
Finally from September - late November they are hourly and 20 minutes past the hour
Closed: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
They suggest buying the tickets on the website in advance but I have to say we didn't and we didn't have to wait long and we visited in May but that was not in the USA's school holidays so that may make a difference.
PRICES AND TOURS
On top of whatever tour price you choose you also have to pay an extra $5 per person taking photographs and this permit only allows for still photos for personal use.
You can choose to just have the tour of the home and studio or you can add a walking tour of the area and the other FLW designed homes. We chose to do the home and studio tour and then bought a map with the FLW homes marked on it and walked around ourselves as we were a bit tight on time.
The tour of the home and studio takes about 45-60 minutes and prices are as follows:
Admission: $15 adult, $12 student (4-17) and senior (65+). There free tickets for children 3 and under. They do limit the tour group size which is good as some of the rooms are quite crowded and difficult to see the parts of interest, never mind take a photo. Everyone visiting, regardless of age, must have a ticket to enter the museum.
You can save $5 when you purchase both the Home and Studio Tour and the Historic District Walking Tour.
The tour of the district around is self guided with a personal player and costs $15. I am sure it is very interesting but seriously unless you are REALLY in to FLW and his architecture I think you can do a pretty good job yourself with the map they sell for a lot less money which is what we did.
WHAT WILL YOU SEE THERE
The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio: The house was built between 1889 and1898 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.
VISITING THE HOME AND STUDIO
When you arrive you make your way to a small office and purchase your tickets. The ticket is for a guided tour of the house and that is the only way you can enter the house.
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 iit 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 prarie with sumac ( looks like wheat grass) as one of his main ornamentation designs.
I was totally wowed by the Prairie style of architecture and loved both the houses we visited this and the one in Springfield. I am not sure I could live in them though as the furnishings don't allow for any of your own personality as FLW is heavily stamped on every single element of the house. Everything seemed just that bit heavy as there was so much wood and very little softness anywhere. There are no scatter cushions and very little chance of anything feminine showing through.
The furniture is beautiful and really fits perfectly in the house but there is a definite minimalist look to the rooms and you can't imagine people actually living there and children playing and leaving their toys around in the playroom upstairs. This was an amazing room with glass curved ceilings so lots of natural light. It was a bit like a church cum conservatory!
I would have loved the dining room furniture but it did need the high ceilings to carry it off. The dining room table is an original, quarter-sawn oak dining table and the chairs are stunningly beautiful with high spindle back chairs. They reminded me a lot of those in Charles Rennie Macintosh's house in Glasgow. Apparently I told the people in Glasgow and they said a lot of people have said the same and yet they never met each other.
I did like the amount of storage that was available and how well it was all hidden so that the wide open minimalist look was not spoiled.
The studio part of the house had original draftsmen's tables and many designs and drawings on display and once again great use was made of natural light. I also loved FLW's beautiful light fittings and would happily have 'borrowed' them for my house.
Apart from the house, the studio and all within it and the beautiful furniture there was a lot of artwork to see. You could see the collection of his Japanese art work and of course the sculptures created by his friend and artistic collaborator, Richard Bock.
Outside the studio you can see two rock or boulder figures. They depict a man crouching and breaking free from the ground beneath him. This Symbolizes FLW breaking free from the 'normal' rules of design and architecture of the period.
Bock also created the stork capitals on the exterior of the studio and these signifies the tree of life, the book of knowledge, an architectural scroll, and two storks full of wisdom and fertility according to the blurb we read while there.
WORTH A VISIT?
A whole hearted yes. It was so inspirational and the guides so knowledgeable. I really felt that we were learn a lot from the guide and see so many little elements that you would probably not notice of you were looking around on your own. They do keep a close eye on the vistors so that things are not spiled by inquisitive hands touching.
The limiting of photography was also good as it stopped constant flashing as we were looking around. In fact flash was not allowed I seem to recall and that is why many of mine were rather dark .
I am not greatly in to architecture but I do love seeing places that are different and have a n interesting history. It is the feel of a place and the stories behind the creation that I enjoy rather than the actual place as it stands, I am not clever enough to be able to appreciate the lines and how things might be difficult to build. I just like looking at interesting and beautiful places and being inspired by their history and the people behind their creation.
This tour was just right in that we were told lots of anecdotes and interesting elements in the rooms were pointed out. We were told a bit about FLW and his family and their life in the house. It all came together so that I really felt like I had learned a lot by the time we left. There was sufficient information content but without every single date and change listed. The guide was entertaining and had a friendly and chatty approach with a bit of a sense of humour too.
The house was beautiful and I really think that I have a good idea of his style of architecture and it has also inspired us to want to visit 'Falling Water on our next trip to the USA which we are already planning.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same username.