Urns in garden wall of Moore-Dugal Residence, built in 1895 by
Frank Lloyd Wright

Once in a while, it’s fun to play tourist in your own town. While my kids are familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Robie House because it is right in our neighborhood, they had not been to the Chicago suburb of Oak Park where Frank Lloyd Wright lived for many years and began his career as an independent architect. So, on a brilliant day over spring break, we drove out there and explored.

We began with a guided tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park. Built in 1889, Frank Lloyd Wright moved out there with his wife Catherine when the area was still mainly prairie. Wright constantly tinkered with the house, adding space for his growing family, experimenting with new concepts, and eventually adding an entire office wing for his growing business. This picture is a scanned postcard (I didn’t feel like paying extra to be allowed to take photos inside) of the dining room, which Wright expanded by adding the half-octagon of windows. I especially loved the skylight-type fixture above the dining room table – you can see architect and designer Louis Sullivan’s influence in its lacy design; Wright worked for the Adler and Sullivan’s firm when he first started out in Chicago. Of course all the furniture is designed by Wright. Most of it is, in my opinion, rather uncomfortable…

My son’s favorite room in the Frank Lloyd Wright home – the children’s playroom (again, a scanned postcard). It is really the home’s most beautiful room, light and airy, on the second floor looking out into the trees. Everything is geared towards children – the windows, for example are at a child’s eye level, the window seats house drawers for toys, and at the back of this picture, behind us looking at it this way, is a walk-up stage where the six Wright children performed puppet shows.

The Moore-Dugal residence, one block from Wright’s own home, was his first independent commission and completed in 1895. Wright rebuilt it after a fire in 1923. With its exaggerated steep gables, timber work and churchy windows, I feel the house has something forbidding about it, as if it were an overgrown witch’s hut. The garden wall along the sidewalk features the urns from my lead picture.

See what I mean by “churchy” windows? All this gothic detail is the eastern window front.
Here then, across the street, in the Arthur B. Heurtley House from 1902, is the prairie style for which we know Frank Lloyd Wright. Gone are the gables and the house lies low, on a concrete slab, without a basement, hugging the flat landscape.
Oh what a harmonious arrangement of shapes! The more I look at my close-up here of the Heurtley House, the more shapes I discover – the arch of the doorway, the curve of the urns, the triangle of the garden wall, the clean horizontal lines of the brick, and the row of the vertical window rectangles. And then the window panes themselves are broken up into smaller rectangles. This house made my daughter fall for prairie style, and she kept wondering what it would be like to live in a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Aside from being annoying with nosy tourists like us mulling about, but as she pointed out, they are built for maximum privacy.

A bit farther down the same street, another, later example of Prairie style, the Peter A. Beachy House from 1906. Here already the plainer bricks and the concrete slab the house rests on seem to blend into the still gray flatness of the ground.
Here is the front of the Frank Thomas House, farther along the same street. Good privacy, of course, as the windows are so high up you can’t peek in. I love how that fuzzy yellow on the branches looks like they are blossoming, when in fact it’s dead fuzz from last year.

It always amazes me how modern, even contemporary Frank Lloyd’s houses look. I have to remind myself that they were built more than 100 years ago in the late Victorian period, and they are often situated, as the Laura Gale House here, amidst Gothic and Queen Anne style houses that were the norm at the end of what could be called the Victorian Era, even in the U.S.