The Frederick C. Robie House
If Illinois is the Land of Lincoln, then Chicago must be the Town of Frank Lloyd Wright. His studio was in one of the Chicago suburbs, and homes he designed are found throughout the area. In Richard’s Hyde Park neighborhood alone, a casual stroll takes you past two homes created by the famous architect: the Isidore Heller house, built in 1897, and the celebrated Robie House, which opened in 1910.
On Saturday we took a tour of the Robie House, which many consider to be the pinnacle of Wright’s Prairie-Style Design. As his work progressed, Wright’s home designs took on an increasingly geometric approach, and the Robie House certainly reflects that trend, with long horizontal exterior lines and crisp angles. The interior rooms also are geometric and open, with large windows that open out onto second-story balconies that circle the front part of the structure. The inside of the house feels very open and airy.
I don’t know a lot about Wright’s work, but I was struck by his elegant solutions to some basic home design issues. He wanted to ensure privacy of the Robie family, so he decided to put the principal living areas on the second floor, where the Robies could look out the many windows but passersby on the ground below, blocked by the bulk of the exterior balconies, could not see in. He also used wooden screens and beautiful decorative windows to partially shield occupants of rooms from view. Wright also disliked open radiators and wiring, so he placed the heating and lighting elements behind attractive wooden structures. His attention to detail included designing special light fixtures, built-in drawers and cabinets to decrease the need for bulky furniture, and a unique dining room table.
The Heller house, which we saw only from the outside, presages Wright’s developing style and is viewed as a key transitional point in his career. It is marked by some beautiful ornamental work on the exterior but also reflects Wright’s love of geometric design. According to the sign out front, it is for sale. Imagine owning a Frank Lloyd Wright house!
Before our tour of the Robie house we watched a short video about Wright and the history of the house. One point that was made was that Wright believed that America should develop and capture its own style, rather than borrowing the turreted, gothic designs of Europe. His Prairie Style homes, with their characteristic geometric appearance, and his interest in designing not only structures but also windows, furniture, and light fixtures flowed from that deep belief. The result is beautiful — but it failed to have the lasting impact that Wright hoped for. In our subdivision you’ll find many Georgian homes but not many that borrow Wright’s lines or theories. It’s too bad, but we should all still admire his effort, the sweep of his vision, and his interest in America staking out its own approach.
The Isidore Heller house.