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Wright designed and built his first home in 1889, on the strength of a $5,000 loan from his then employer and mentor, seminal Chicago architect Louis Sullivan. Only 22 at the time, he would continually remodel the modest dwelling over the next two decades, so a visit here provides a unique look into the architect's developing ideas. This is where Wright's nascent architectural philosophy first bloomed; the house was intended not only to hold his rapidly growing family but also to showcase his then revolutionary notions. It combines elements of the 19th-century Shingle style with subtle innovations that stamp its originality.
Wright established his own practice in 1893 and added a studio to the house in 1898. In 1909 he 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 earth-tone spaces. The architect's determination to create an integrated environment prompted him to design the natural wood furniture as well—though his apparent lack of regard for comfort is often the subject of commentary by visitors. The lead windows have colored-glass 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, led by well-informed guides who discuss the architecture, point out artifacts from the family's life, and tell amusing stories about the rambunctious Wright clan. Reservations are advised: without one, you'll need to arrive as early as possible to snag a spot—not later than early afternoon to make the last tour on any given day. Tours begin at the on-site Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio Museum Shop, which carries architecture-related books and gifts. You can pick up a map noting other examples of Wright's work that are within easy walking or driving distance; guided tours of the neighborhood are also available.