Frank Lloyd Wright, Mid-century St. Louis, Midcentury Modern

Insights from 7 Homeowners Living in a Frank Lloyd Wright House

Article originally posted by Architectural Digest

When I first moved to New York in 2018, my dad drove me straight from Indiana to Brooklyn, making just one stop in between: Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. Arguably Frank Lloyd Wright’s most iconic residential design, I spent most of the tour admiring the cantilevered rooms, listening to the sound of the waterfall below, and wondering what it would be like to live in a home designed by the American architect. Though my experience was confined to a 1.5-hour tour, even in that short period, I felt like something shifted. I could only imagine what his work would inspire when it became part of one’s daily life.

For some people, this is their reality. Every morning and night, Wright’s work shelters and comforts them—and has profound impacts on the ways they view the world. Below, AD speaks with seven homeowners about living in a Frank Lloyd Wright house and how the experience has shaped them.

Fredrick House (Barrington, Illinois)

It took the McArdles two years to restore the Frederick house. Photo: James Caulfield

When Dave McArdle and his wife, Joyce, first met in high school, their dates often consisted of touring Frank Lloyd Wright homes throughout Oak Park and River Forest. Later, when they eventually got married and were looking for a home to start a family in, they learned that Wright’s 1901 Frank Henderson house was for sale in Elmhurst, Illinois. Though it needed a lot of work, it was within the couple’s budget. “During the renovation, we discovered that there was a real need for a formal way that Frank Lloyd Wright homeowners could share their experiences and resources to maintain and restore their homes,” Dave says. “Along with other Wright homeowners, we founded the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.”

The pair sold the Henderson house after five years and spent the next 20 or so years in a custom home designed by E. Fay Jones (a previous Wright apprentice) in Illinois before eventually moving to Florida. Then, “One of our real estate colleagues in Illinois contacted us about a Wright home for sale in Barrington Hills, the Fredrick House. Our colleague had heard of rumors of plans to bulldoze it,” Dave says. Sensing another Wright opportunity, the couple bought the home in 2016 and spent two years restoring the dilapidating home.

The exterior of the Frederick house. Photo: James Caulfield

“As lovers of architecture, Joyce and I always get a certain rush of excitement when we tour a great architectural home,” Dave says. “However, actually living in a work of art affects how you see and feel details on a daily level.” The couple say they constantly notice the way Wright played with light and it makes them look deeper at the element even when not in the home. “Since every element of a Wright home is integrated with all other building elements and with its surroundings, we notice other patterns and rhythms in life and are more aware of when things become ‘out of sync,’” Dave adds. However, the pair say that—aside from living surrounded in beauty—they appreciate the community they’ve met of fellow Wright aficionados. “Especially when [we meet] the few remaining original owners who met and worked with Wright. The stories of this creative genius are so fascinating.”

Frank J. Baker House (Wilmette, Illinois)

Inside the Frank J. Baker house. Photo: Amy Bauer

When Eric Bauer first toured the Frank J. Baker house in Wilmette, Illinois, he knew it would be somewhere he could spend the rest of his life. “I walked into the living room, and I said ‘Amy, I could see myself dying here,’” he tells AD.Built in 1909, the Prairie-style home represents one of Wright’s last remaining two-story homes with a T-shaped floor plan, a layout he was experimenting with at the beginning of the 20th century. Eric and his wife, Amy, had been looking for a new family home for them and their two daughters, and when the Wright home hit the market, the pair were immediately taken. Though they knew it would take work—which spanned a whole 18 months—the family has now been comfortably living in the home for two years.

For them, being in the house has changed the way they look at architecture and design. “There’s so much thought [from Wright] about the perspective of where you are in that room, and I never really appreciated that before,” Amy says. The home’s nuances that only become apparent after knowing it on such an intimate level—like the subtle changes in the views to the ways the light enters the room—have deepened their appreciation for the architect’s vision. “Wright was also so thoughtful about how people flowed into the house and guiding you naturally into the flow of the home,” Amy says. “We have that great compression and release style that he’s well known for, and it’s true that it guides you through the space.” In their home, the ceilings feel low as one walks into the foyer, but they quickly expand into a grand living room space. “And that sort of takes your breath away,” she adds.

The kitchen of the Frank J. Baker house. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers, courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy

However, the pair say there is also a certain amount of pressure that comes with owning a Wright design. With the ultimate goal being to honor the architect’s vision, it’s easy to question whether the right decisions are being made, particularly as it comes to restoration and renovation. “I felt so nervous to open the house up originally, because I was afraid that people would have an opinion that we did something wrong,” Amy says. Ultimately, they’ve received positive feedback from guests and friends and family alike. “We sometimes open the house to tours, and people have been very complimentary, they love seeing a Wright house being used as it’s intended,” Eric says, explaining that there are photos on the wall and toys around the home. Of course, that only adds to the charm. “There’s spirit to the house,” Amy concludes.

J.A. Sweeton House (Cherry Hill, New Jersey)

In the dining room of the J.A. Sweeton house. Photo: Dan Nichols

To say Dan Nichols’ journey to owning a Frank Lloyd Wright house was written in the stars might be extreme, but it is certainly a full-circle story. When he was in grade school, his family would make shopping trips to Sears, passing a unique house on the way that Nichols always admired. “I thought it was the coolest-looking home,” he says, adding that, at the time, he didn’t even know it was designed by Wright. As he grew older and learned more about Wright, he only become more enthralled with the visionary’s work. So much so, that Nichols became an architect thanks to Wright’s influence and even proposed to his wife at Fallingwater. Still, “The idea of living in a Frank Lloyd Wright house, I just figured that the opportunity would not present itself,” he says. “I never really thought about it seriously.”

The exterior of the J.A. Sweeton house. Photo: Dan Nichols

But one day, that unexpected chance came. He and his wife had designed and built a home in central Pennsylvania, but decided to move closer to Philadelphia to be near aging family. It was at this time that the J.A. Sweeton house hit the market. “It was in a condition where we could afford it because it needed work,” he says. At 1,500 square feet, the Usonian home is the smallest Wright design in New Jersey, and he built it for a family that didn’t have a large budget (something the architect would often accommodate to). “It’s registered in more humble materials, but it has the spatial qualities of a Frank Lloyd Wright house,” Nichols says. “And I still feel the richness of that.

Though he says his home doesn’t require any more work than any other older house, a Wright design does ask for certain care. “You don’t come into a house like this and look at the latest thing in a magazine or HGTV and say, ‘I’m going to go do that to this house and paint everything gray or do a farmhouse kitchen,’” he says. “You try to live with and respect the character of the house and work with it rather than against it.”

Dorothy G. Turkel House (Detroit, Michigan)

The exterior of the Dorothy G. Turkel house. Photo: James Haefner

Dale Morgan and his partner, Norm Silk, were ready for a modernist change when they bought the Dorothy G. Turkel house 16 years ago. “We lived in a very traditional Mediterranean house,” Morgan says. “We decided that we wanted to do something contemporary and modern.” Coincidentally, two decades before being handed the deed, the pair had visited the Wright home and thought they’d never live in a property like it. “Tom Monaghan, [the founder of Domino’s Pizza,] owned the house, and we came over to tour it one night,” he says. “We were not impressed because it was in [a] terrible condition, the roof leaked…everything was wrong with the house, and we thought we would never live in a house like it.” But twenty years later, both the couple and the house had seemingly changed, and the timing was finally right.

“Living in it is wonderful,” Morgan says, adding that people are often surprised by how warm and inviting the space is. Still, true to Wright’s vision, the home’s constant dialogue with nature is the real allure. “The garden just pulls you out, it’s like a vacuum,” Morgan says. When guests come over, they’ll often tour the home and walk through each room, then immediately want to go sit on the terrace. Even when indoors, the outside is always calling. “We have a 500 small-scale windows, which are about a 24-inch square, and [they] control your vista and your sight line almost like a microscope,” Morgan says, adding that it provides endless opportunities to watch animals, birds, and plants grow and thrive. However, this also means that keeping the garden in near-perfect condition is almost as important as keeping the house in good shape. “Because the microscope is going everywhere, if there’s a dead plant or pieces of papers blowing around in the yard, you become totally, totally aware of it.”

The music room in the Dorothy G. Turkel house. Photo: James Haefner

One of the couple’s best moments in the house took place shortly after purchasing it, when the pair invited over friends and family for a party. “One of our neighbors came into the music room and tears just started brimming down her cheeks. She said it was the most beautiful space she’d ever seen,” Morgan recalls. The guest, who described herself as an atheist Jew, told the couple that the room made her feel like there must be a God. “It’s very interesting, the emotions that are evoked as people pass through different spaces in the house,” Morgan says.

Curtis and Lillian Meyer House (Kalamazoo, Michigan)

The Curtis and Lillian Meyer house is often classified as a hemicyle Usonian. Photo: Andrew Pielage

It took Doug LaBrecque 15 years to restore the Curtis and Lillian Meyer House, a hemicyle Usonian home just outside of Kalamazoo. “I always wanted to retire in Michigan,” he says. “I bought it in 2003, and it was affordable at the time.” He worked with Taliesin architect Lawrence R. Brink and Wright specialist architect John Eifler to refurbish the property. It paid off, as the home was recently awarded the Wright Spirit Award, which “recognizes efforts of extraordinary individuals and organizations that have preserved the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright through their tireless dedication and persistent efforts.”

In the kitchen of the Meyer house. Photo: Andrew Pielage

“I was trying to restore it to its original splendor, and that goes with a lot of responsibility, both artistically and financially,” he explains. With most of the renovation work in the past, he says the home promotes a certain type of existence. “The house sort of tells you how to live,” he says. “I live differently when I’m there.” Though LaBrecque says he’s not a morning person, when in the Wright home, he finds himself getting up early. “The sun comes in sort of like a sundial, and I get up, have my coffee, sit and watch the birds. That’s my routine,” he says. “It makes you live alongside nature.”

Practically, the house doesn’t have much storage, so he says it nudges him to live more minimally and avoid collecting unnecessary items. However, like the Bauers, LaBrecque agrees there is a certain anxiety that comes with the responsibility of owning and honoring the late architect’s work. “You’re always worried about messing it up,” he explains. “You don’t want to screw it up.”

Laura Gale House (Oak Park, Illinois)

In the kitchen of the Meyer house. Photo: Andrew Pielage

Andrea Kayne’s favorite memory of living in the Laura Gale House—which she bought with her now husband in 2017—was the day they got married. “It was just us, our kids, and my really good friend who married us, and I felt like the house was this container that just brought us all together,” she says. “There’s something about the windows and lights…it was super special.” Both Kayne and her husband, Andy Mead, had been previously married, and when looking to combine their families, the Laura Gale House felt like a picture-perfect scenario. “I remember Andy and I took a walk along the street and we passed the house and thought it would be a dream to live there.”

Lucky for them, the property hit the market soon after, and the pair were able to scoop it up. Located in the Oak Park neighborhood just west of Chicago—a unique enclave full of multiple Wright designs from the early years of his practice—the home is often regarded as one of his most influential Prairie-style houses. Featuring cantilevered balconies and roofs, Wright later described the home as a progenitor to Fallingwater. “We just loved it,” Kayne says. “There were rooms for all our kids—it’s actually much bigger than it looks on the street—and we loved the cantilevers.”

The Laura Gale home is often credited as a progenitor to Fallingwater. Photo: Emi Kitawaki

Since moving in, the family feels at peace in the property. “We don’t have any window treatments because the windows are so magnificent…and they really bring the outside in,” she says. “It makes you appreciate every kind of sky, every kind of light.” The drawbacks of the home are more minor inconveniences than major considerations. During bad weather, Kayne says she sometimes wishes they had a garage, or when the whole family is gathering it would be nice if there was a bit more elbow room in the kitchen. Of course, there’s also maintenance—but that’s true for any home. “I don’t mind the work,” she says. And though Wright houses are sometimes critiqued for not meeting the standards necessary for modern-day living, Kayne explains that the house is extremely comfortable for their needs. “I know people say [Wright’s] houses aren’t practical, but it doesn’t feel that way for us. We live in every square inch of the house, and it works really well.”

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