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.