Frank Lloyd Wright

The Frederick C. Robie House

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.

The Isidore Heller house.

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Stripped-Down And Uber-Cool

IMG_4832I’m in Manhattan today.  This trip, I’m staying at a new hotel, the Andaz Wall Street.  It’s been something of a revelation.

Normally I like older hotels, but what I really search for is a reasonably priced hotel within walking distance of my destination for the day.  The Andaz fits the bill — and happens to be ultra-modern and ultra-cool, besides.

IMG_4833My room looks like it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on a feng shui rush.  The sleeping area is all blonde wood against a dark wood floor, with a bed that is low to the ground.  The light fixtures are metal frames with a canvas covering, and the reading chair and desk chair are of sharp, contemporary design.

The feeling is bright and open and airy, and there’s not a bit of clutter to be found — except when the weary traveler lets his bags drop to the floor with a clunk.

The bathroom area also is striking — a huge, black, walk-in shower where you can take three steps in any direction before hitting a tiled wall and a separate bathtub with a large window looks out over the sleeping area.  (My Midwestern sensibilities suggest that the reason for this configuration is to allow a bather to watch the big-screen TV in the bedroom.)  The sink and vanity area are in a separate room, and the sink is a glass bowl.

IMG_4828There are some other interesting aspects to the room, too.  The light fixture panels right above the nightstand have buttons that are clearly labeled, so you don’t have to guess how to turn something on or off.  I particularly like the “All Off” and “All On” buttons.  The two “blackout” buttons control the window coverings.  And, rather than the standard hotel room pen that lacks ink or skips when you use it, the Andaz provides a black pencil, complete with sharpener and separate eraser.

It’s all very sleek — and comfortable, too.  After we arrived last night, one of my traveling companions said “I’m not sure I’m cool enough to stay here.”  I know I’m not cool enough to stay here, but I’ve enjoyed this visit and a peek at a different approach to hotel room design.