As a real estate agent originally from the northwest suburbs of Chicago, I’ve been lucky enough to grow up around stunning examples of both Victorian and mid-century modern architecture. While Victorian homes certainly have their charm, the clean, functional simplicity of modern architecture is truly appealing. Frank Lloyd Wright, considered by many to be the father of modern architecture, grew up in a time when the steeply-pitched gable roofs, ornate details, and closed-off rooms characteristic of Victorian-style homes were the norm. However, he envisioned a new style of home influenced by the open prairies of the midwest.
At the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, IL, you can tour the first home designed and built by Wright when he was only 22 years old. While he hadn’t developed his signature prairie-style homes yet, the interior of his Oak Park home shows the beginning of Wright’s architectural philosophy. Where Victorian homes create a feeling of separation between nature and interior living space, Wright wanted to incorporate nature into his design. He even went as far as to build the home around a tree, allowing the tree to grow through the roof! In contrast to the Victorian style, the living room was open and felt connected to the rest of the house, the space emphasized by keeping the furniture on the edges of the room, under the large windows.
In 1895, Wright made many additions to the home, including a huge playroom for his six children. To enter the playroom, you first have to go through a narrow, low-ceilinged hallway.This accentuates the playroom’s gambrel vaulted ceiling and wide-open space. Stained glass windows showcase geometric tulips, while leaf patterns on the enormous skylight make you think of a forest canopy.
Wright’s studio is adjoined to the rest of the house. The studio’s reception hall, while small, seems to glow. Geometric stained-glass skylights of green, gold, and red let in ambient sunlight that reflects subtly from the gold-painted walls. Another low, narrow hallway leads from the reception hall to the main studio library. The vaulted ceiling in this octagonal room allow the windows to be placed high enough to let in light and show the tops of trees while minimizing distractions from the busy street outside. This is where Wright could consult with his clients and focus on their plans.
On the other side of the reception hall is the two-story drafting room where Wright’s staff worked to help him develop his signature prairie style homes. Wright’s architects worked on drafting tables on the ground floor, while the second-story balcony was suspended from the ceiling by chains. This kept the drafting room below open and free of support beams, creating a collaborative environment. Wright kept the balcony’s supportive chains and counterweights visible in part because he believed in “truth in architecture.”
Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio is located within the Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie School of Architecture Historic District. Within this district are 25 homes designed by Wright himself, and about 60 others designed by colleagues and students of his school. The homes here showcase the low profiles, flat overhanging roofs, and wide bands of windows that this style is famous for. Though the prairie style peaked in popularity in the 1920s, it influenced the development of modern homes throughout the 20th century. Though trends have come and gone over the decades, the appeal of these homes endure.
Hi, my name is Sean Lorch and I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I started in the business as a real estate appraiser and then became a real estate agent. I use my appraisal knowledge to help my customers make informed decisions. In 2015 I moved to Naples, FL where I currently run NaplesAreaRealEstate.com and help folks buy and sell real estate. I have always appreciated architecture and it was a real treat to go on the Frank Lloyd Wright tour in the summer of 2022 while visiting friends and family up north.