The tyranny of living in Frank Lloyd Wright style
I just bought and read a lovely little book, “Hometown Architect” by Patrick Cannon, which collects, discusses and provides photographs of the many houses built in Oak Park, IL by Frank Lloyd Wright. [The book’s home page is http://www. pomegranate. com/ a118.html] Wright lived and worked in Oak Park during his earliest days as an architect, so the neighborhood abounds with his work. These include Queen Anne homes dating to the very beginning of his career as an architect with little to indicate that their builder would soon evolve a highly individual style; then a little while later we see the precursors of the Prairie Style, and then we move on to high-style Wright with all the stops pulled out. The book offers the reader a very good choice of photographs along with outstanding text on each house giving information about the original clients, changes that were made, restorations that were done, etc.
As my husband and I looked at the photos together we both were struck by how many homeowners have filled their Wright houses with Wright-inspired furniture and light fixtures. “I like Wright’s architecture for the most part,” said my husband, “but I would never want to have one of those painful-looking chairs in my own house.”
The tables and built-in benches and window seats are generally more usable, but most of the light fixtures contain dim lightbulbs that are further muffled by having to shine out from within what are essentially decorative wooden boxes. You can’t hope to read comfortably in this kind of light. All these things made me ponder why the homeowners bow to the tyranny of Wright’s original vision for these homes.
Why do people who live today in 110- or 120-year-old Frank Lloyd Wright homes feel the need to furnish their homes with reproductions of the incredibly uncomfortable furnishings that he designed? Bear in mind that many of the original owners back in Wright’s day eventually jettisoned his difficult furniture because it was so unfriendly to ordinary human usage. The easy answer is that because Wright designed the houses and their furnishings as a package deal, owners today are simply seeking to restore authenticity. But I seriously doubt that these owners have restored the bathrooms and the kitchens to their original Victorian status, because to do so would be to forego modern convenience and expectations of comfort. Following that logic, if you insist on modern plumbing and a modern kitchen in your historic Frank Lloyd Wright home, then why not insist on an interior filled with modern furniture that actually feels good to sit on? A house should not be a stylistic prison, after all. Can’t these owners simply look upon a Wright home as a beautiful and distinguished backdrop to their own furnishings?