Wright designed and built his house when he was only 22, in 1889, on the strength of a $5,000 loan from his then-employer and mentor, seminal Chicago architect Louis Sullivan. A visit here provides a unique look into the architect's developing ideas over time as he continually remodeled the house. This is where Wright's nascent architectural philosophy first bloomed; he designed the house not only to hold his rapidly growing family but also to showcase his then-revolutionary
notions. The home combines elements of the 19th-century Shingle style with subtle innovations that stamp its originality. Over the next 20 years Wright expanded his business as well as his modest cottage, establishing his own practice in 1893 and adding a studio to the house in 1898.
In 1909 Wright spread his innovative designs across the United States and abroad (at this time he also left his wife and six children for the wife of a client). He sold his home and studio in 1925; they were subsequently turned into apartments that eventually fell into disrepair. In 1974 a group of local citizens calling itself the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Foundation, together with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, embarked on a 13-year restoration that returned the building to its 1909 appearance.
Wright's home, made of brick and dark shingles, is filled with natural wood furnishings and earth-tone spaces. The architect's determination to create an integrated environment prompted him to design the furniture as well—though his apparent lack of regard for comfort is often the subject of commentary by visitors. In the lead windows are colored-glass art designs, and several rooms have skylights or other indirect lighting. A spacious barrel-vault playroom on the second floor includes a hidden piano for the children's theatrical productions. The adjacent studio is made up of four spaces—an office, a large reception room, an octagonal library, and an octagonal drafting room that uses a chain harness system rather than traditional beams to support its balcony, roof, and walls.
To see the interior, you must take one of the small-group tours, let by well-informed guides who discuss the architecture, point out artifacts from the family's life, and tell amusing stories of the rambunctious Wright clan. Reservations are advised, required for groups of 10 or more. Without one, you need to arrive as early as possible to be assured a spot—not later than early afternoon to make the last tour on any given day. Tours begin at the Ginkgo Tree Bookshop, which is part of the home and studio. The shop carries architecture-related books and gifts. You can pick up a map of other examples of Wright's work that are within easy walking or driving distance or you can join a guided tour of the neighborhood led by volunteers.
Sep 27, 2011
My spouse and I visited the Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois for one partial day during August 2011. We have visited the city of Chicago several times in years past, but always visiting the tourist attractions within the city limits, so this sight always remained on our “to see” list until this year. We reached Oak Park via the green line to the Harlem exit (alternately, you can use the Oak Park exit). From the Downtown
Loop area, it took about 30 minutes. Although several people recommended taking this train, it didn’t feel completely safe to me (despite my decent travel background); there were some stops just outside the Downtown area that admitted and dispatched some sketchy passengers. But we travelled there and back safely without any incidents, so perhaps my feeling of uneasiness was just a figment of my imagination. Oak Park is a lovely town, and the FLW neighborhood houses are a highlight. We took a combination tour, first strolling the neighborhood while listening to a self-guided audio tour on the MP3 players that the FLW studio provided (the players weren’t difficult to use; however, the young man handing them out and providing explanations made them seem so). The walking tour took about 1.5 hours; however, we did not go inside Unity Temple, which we feel would have added an additional half hour to hour to the walking tour. Our walking tour was followed by a 1-hour guided tour of the home and studio. Visiting on a summer Saturday afternoon, we booked our tickets ahead of time online (using their Etix system), which was an excellent idea because some tours were sold out on the day that we were there. You could easily make an entire day of your visit to Oak Park, stopping for lunch and shopping at one of the many restaurants and stores nearby. The home and studio was where FLW spent the first 20 years of his career (from the late 1890s to the early 1900s) testing out his concepts on the home of his first wife and six children, and it has been preserved beautifully. You cannot take photographs inside either the home or the studio. There is a nice gift shop on-site, but no cafe. There are just a few restrooms, and lines were long. The site also provides a locked bag check area if you bring along a purse or backpack that you don’t wish to keep with you on the tour.