Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Visiting Fallingwater

I have heard of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater all of my life, so when I discovered the house was just a short drive from where we spent New Year's weekend, I reserved tickets for a tour—just $20 a person.

The house is tucked away in the woods over Bear Run waterfall. The Kaufman family (of the department store fame) had a woodsy cottage near the waterfall and commissioned Wright to design and build a more substantial and modern summer house near there. Wright chose to build his masterpiece actually on top of the falls, not just beside it, and worked the house in and around the existing landscape without trying to transform it. In the summer, the family could open up doors in the living room and walk straight down into the stream that was part of the water system. Amazing.

From here, it looks as if the house were many levels, but it's actually two houses, the main residence and then a guest house and staff quarters behind, connected by a covered walkway. The floors are all stone, the walls as well, and a good bit of the furniture is built in, including couches, tables, desks, headboards for the beds, and bookshelves.

The fireplaces extend out into the rooms to give the feel of a campfire, with red grates holding the logs completely exposed to the room. The grandest one is in the main living room that was built around a boulder—you can see the bulk of the boulder on the outside of the house, and Wright built around it, allowing it to seep into the house and become part of the hearth.

The Kaufman's had one son, Edgar, Jr., who was in his early 20s when the house was built, and he was an architectural student of Wright's. He moved into the upper level of the house and added some of his own touches, like additional bookcases that blocked some of Wright's windows, and he turned what was meant to be his bedroom into a study and moved his bedroom down a narrow hallway so that he could have the whole floor to himself.

We weren't allowed to take photographs inside the house, but after the tour, we went for a short walk down these steps to a landing point on the other side of the river to take pictures of the place. This is the view from the spot:

Eustacia got a new camera for Christmas, and here she is working with it to get the best shot.

There are plenty of amazing things about Fallingwater—its proximity to the falls, its use of light and innovative windows, its spring-fed pools, how the outside comes in, and what's inside reflects what's out. In the late 1930s, the house cost $150,000, what was considered astronomical at the time, and it was interesting to hear reactions from people on the tour. Fallingwater was built during the Depression when only people like the Kaufman's could afford a house like this. The tour mumbling went something like this—the retail business must have been pretty good then for them to have cash to spend on this house...they must have been lucky with just goes to show that no matter how bad times are, there is always someone with cash laying around. I'm guessing you'd hear the same things from people when touring a mansion built today.

One of the best things about Fallingwater is that Edgar, Jr. understood the historical significance of the place, and he gave it to a conservancy he trusted to maintain it and preserve it. He was active with the tours and the preservation into his old age.


ejbisme said...

Built over a waterfall...even a romantic like me wonders what the heating bill is like.

dive said...

Beautiful, Robyn, Thank you. I've loved this house all my adult life and never managed to get across the pond to see it.