Kind of a nice home office, when you work in Frank Lloyd Wright’s former home.

 

 

Lots of attention on working-from-home, so I thought I’d do a post about Taliesin, where Frank Lloyd Wright worked, lived, and taught.

I work at a busy university, but in a seldom-visited ell off an old building.  Some days my only visitor, is someone checking if I’ve watered the office plants in the window of the common space.  (I haven’t.)  Other than a couple of meetings a week, I’m used to working solo — I spend my day on computers, email and phone — so the adjustment to working and attending college from home really wasn’t too traumatic.

Apparently though, based on the continuing flood of online advice, it’s been a real sea change for a lot of folks.

Lots & lots of articles floating around, or rather, we’re floating in a sea of articles, about remote learning and working.

 

 

 

Taliesin is very close to the Wisconsin River, but this pond is a reservoir, created by damming a little stream. The overflow was used to generate electricity for the house.

All this advice is eddying round and round my head, kind of confusing.

Here’s some of my notes:

~   ~   ~

Turn on drone music.

Analyze your neural pathways & practice brain-hacking

Need to hack a pathway through shrubs for drone pizza deliveries. 

Do we have oregano in spice cabinet

~   ~   ~

Learn to better communicate with your animal companions.  

Resolve relationship crises between cat & dog.  

Evaluate pets as an emergency food source. 

Order a larger crock-pot. 

One with a lockable lid. 

Buy more oregano.  Catnip?  Horehound?

~   ~   ~

Maintain Focus! 

Research-Backed Secrets to Concentration!  

💐 Let your mind Wander🎈🌻  It will create Wonder💐

Remember, a wandering mind, like a Labrador, almost always comes home by dinnertime, carrying with it, something interesting. 

 

An online motivational voice tells me to live in the moment.

But his accent makes it sound like mo-mint, and I realize how long it’s been since I had a York Peppermint Pattie.  Doesn’t mint kill germs?  Was it peppermint or spearmint as a plague preventative?  Mandrake?

Then I wonder if it’s true, that if you breathe through a hookah filled with mint mouthwash, the air will be cleansed of germs.

Would people stare at me, if I did that on the bus.  Not in my neighborhood.  But if they see the hookah, will they think it’s a bong, and approach too closely, to ask if I’m holding?  I’m not a pothead, but I’m often mistaken for a homeless guy, when I wear  my favorite old jacket, and don’t shave or comb my hair.

What if I just wear that horrible old jacket, which has been encouraging social distancing for years, before that was a thing, and is infused with organic scents (citronella, lemon eucalyptus oil, raisins, and wet Labrador) and just keep popping York Peppermint Patties?  What about tabbouleh with fresh mint, would that kill a virus?  Are there any Lebanese delis in this town?  Do they sell hookahs?  Is that an offensive stereotype?

When I was a kid, my grandmother walked me through her herb garden, and handed me little snips of every plant as she named them.  I put them in my jacket pocket, and forgot about them.  Then when I was riding on the school bus, I kept thinking about pizza all the time.  After a couple of weeks, I realized, my jacket was full of pizza spices — oregano, marjoram, basil, thyme, etc.  I left them in the pockets, I loved having a pizza jacket, but they didn’t prevent me from getting frequent colds and ear infections.

Buy fresh mint when you get the oregano.  See if they have mandrake in the Goya aisle. 

 

And so it goes.  I don’t think my mind is coming back anytime soon.

But let’s get back to architecture, we’ll be minty fresh & on point.

 

 

Walking toward it from the visitor center, Taliesin resembles a little hilltop village.  The hill was one of Wright’s favorite spots as a boy, and overlooks land that was farmed by his relatives.  The visitor center itself is fun to visit, designed as a restaurant, but not finished until after his death.  It does have a small restaurant operating in the building also, which had terrific food.

 

Like a lot of people, housebound, I’ve been thinking about how our surroundings and architecture influence our mood, and our thoughts.

Lots of studies and articles – – by architects, artists, home decorators, psychologists, color psychologists, etc.

 

 

Wright designed a schoolhouse for his aunts, within walking distance of his house. The whimsical-looking “Romeo and Juliet” tower in the distance, was a functioning windmill, to pump water for the school, as well as a pretty cool observation spot.

 

In this monograph, we will explore how manifestations of this current crisis complicate our societal work-centered dynamic & we will deconstruct the underlying cultural sources of pandemic-induced burnout.

 

Just kidding, were you scared?

Interesting stuff, but this column isn’t structured to construct or deconstruct much of anything.

I find too much structure, grammar, stuff like that, disrupts the feng shui of my site.

It’s Spring, and barbeque season, and that brought to mind a trip during April of last year, to Frank Lloyd Wright’s home/school/workshop in Wisconsin.  A place of beauty and really bad fires.

 

 

“I knew well that no house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and home should live together each the happier for the other.” FLW

 

If you’re gonna work from home, this is the way to do it!  A fascinating, sprawling place, in a bucolic setting.  The house, studio, and outbuildings total 37,000 square feet, and if you add all the other buildings on property he designed (Hillside School, theater, sister’s house, barn, visitor center, etc. ) it collectively covers almost two acres.

Arriving there from my 700 square foot apartment, it felt…spacious.

 

 

 

 

The almost-invisible corner, formed by two panes of glass, was one of Wright’s distinctive design elements.

 

 

 

The hilltop is a whole complex of buildings – – the main house, guest house, drafting room, carriage house, farm structures, garage, etc.  It was a place of constant modification – a chicken barn, for example, was converted into a dormitory at some point.  The courtyards have lawns, stone paving, pieces of Asian and Wright’s own art, and a patio under an arbor covered with vines.

 

 

 

 

Inside & out, are examples of Asian art, that Wright brought back from his trips.  For a time, he had a successful side business, selling Japanese woodblock prints.

 

 

 

 

The house is not as dark as it looks in my terrible photo, there are hundreds of windows, and it’s filled with light.  In my defense, I wouldn’t describe the tour as rushed, but neither did it allow time for photography.

 

 

 

 

Some of the Asian antiquities, rescued from earlier house fires, were incorporated into the stonework.

 

I was a docent at a house museum, and at the Jamestowne site in Virginia.  So I understand that you cannot talk about every aspect of a place, in one tour.

So it wasn’t a complete surprise, when the guide at Taliesin, didn’t mention the ax murders.

So I asked.

Mostly out of curiosity over how the docents would handle the topic.

I don’t want to do a hatchet job on the tour, or the house, so I shouldn’t exaggerate.  No one was actually killed with an ax.

It was a hatchet.

Wright was already married, with six kids, when he ran off to Europe for a year, with a married client, Martha Cheney.

He built a house at Taliesin, and Martha and her two children lived there with him.

A husband & wife from Barbados worked there as a handyman/cook team, but had just been fired.  The mentally-unstable handyman attacked and killed Martha and her children, and four others, poured gasoline on the bodies, and set the house on fire.

 

Instead of fleeing the site of the massacre, Wright rebuilt it.

It burned down again, from an electrical short. (It seems ironic, that one of the first homes he designed in the area, for his sister, was featured in a magazine article “A Fireproof House for $5000.”  Wright later set the theater wing of his architecture school on fire, trying to clear some brush.)

Wright rebuilt for a third time, on what some people might have felt was an unlucky sort of spot, or at least, too far from the nearest fire department.  The current house is sometimes called Taliesin III.

And here’s one thing – – no one on the tour, including myself, felt the slightest sense of creepiness.  The house is light-filled, calm and lovely.

I’ve read that traditional Navajo will burn or abandon a home, when someone dies inside it.  Some cultures practice purification rituals, burning sweetgrass or sage, etc.  Perhaps they’d feel that the two fires served as a cleansing process, or that ghosts need a physical fabric to attach to a site.

Well, it struck me as a lovely spot.

Across the little valley, a Shingle Style chapel is visible, with the interior designed by Wright, and where some of his relatives are buried.  He was originally buried there as well, for about 26 years, but his tradition of controversy, family strife, and fire continued even after death.  In 1985, according to the wishes of his third wife, but apparently without the knowledge or consent of other family members, he was disinterred, cremated, and the ashes taken to Taliesin West, his studio in Arizona.

 

Fireplaces were scattered throughout the house, some so narrow that the logs would’ve been placed vertically.

 

 

Home ownership isn’t a guarantee of serenity, is it. The guide explained that this cracking was due to the ground settling, over many decades. But some of the stonework was not quite professional-looking, and was probably done by his students. I was surprised to find some of the recessed lighting was pretty cheap-looking.  But our guide pointed out, that this was a home, and workshop, and not a glamorous project with a wealthy client footing the bills.

 

I’ve now toured a number of Wright structures – the Darwin Martin complex in Buffalo, Graycliff (a lakeside estate for the same client), Fallingwater, Pope-Leighey (a small “Usonian” house in Virginia), the Guggenheim, as well as individual rooms, that were rescued from buildings being demolished.   I’ve viewed others in Rochester, Milwaukee, Chicago, etc.  They are all wonderful.

But quite often, you see or hear about problems and staggeringly expensive restorations – – cantilevered floors that had to have I-beams retrofitted, at huge expense, ceilings coming down, etc.  Some of that is simply a function of age and weather.  One of his principles, that a house should be an organic part of the landscape, integrated with its surroundings, is famous, and now seems kind of inarguable.  But sometimes his houses seem to want to disintegrate into the landscape – most tours of Wright structures include recitations of repairs and restorations, and pleas for contributions.

But even during his lifetime, there were problems.  The shellac that he specified for exterior woodwork, peeled off, repeatedly.  Ask a few carpenters sometime, if they’ve ever used shellac on exterior wood.  They’re just going to look at you funny, while they shake their heads, no, never.  A famous story was about a client, calling about a skylight, leaking water all over his desk.  Wright’s reply:  “I guess you’re going to have to move your desk.”  Leaks in flat tar roofs, cantilevers that weren’t up to the task, rooms heating up because the windows were without drapes or shades at his insistence, etc.

 

Much of the woodwork, inside and out, is bald cypress, which he started using during the ’20’s, although it isn’t native to NY or WI.  Projects in the west sometimes used redwood, and later houses, mahogany.

 

Kentuck Knob Museum website

I’ve never taken an architecture class, and know very little about Wright.  But I’m going to stick my neck out, and express my uninformed personal opinion.  Wright’s houses are wonderful, they’re timeless designs, and I guess you don’t need me to explain that to you – – but sometimes…they seem to have been constructed like stage scenery, not intended to last.  Wright was an artist, a theatrical person, leading a life filled with drama.  Very Hollywood.  An abandoned wife & family, notorious affairs, financial insolvency, dozens of automobiles, a lurid mass murder, and what some would see as a flamboyant arrogance.  The guy wore a cape, for heaven’s sake.  And a cardsharp broad-brimmed hat.  The house was modern, organic, “natural style,” but the narration inside it was gothic.

 

 

These houses are like fantastic home theaters, for the residents to strut their hours on the stage.  Phone calls from clients, full of sound and fury, complaining of leaking roofs, do not signify — there’s not a note that worth the noting.  He created these scenes, and left it to the home owners — the actors and stage managers, mere players — to fret about impracticalities & drips.  “Reason and love keep little company together…”  Bob Vila mentions a number of leaky houses created by famous architects — Philip Johnson, Le Corbusier, Frank Gehry, etc. — and a story about someone visiting a Wright house in Tulsa, during a rainstorm.  There were containers all over the house, to catch the drips.  The owner just said, “This is what happens when you leave a work of art out in the rain.”

So, what are the takeaway lessons for working from home?  Think creatively, stretch, take time for recreational pursuits, like other people’s spouses, put new batteries in your smoke alarms, and don’t leave sharp objects laying around when you’ve fired your staff.

Oh yeah, and try to create something revolutionary, beautiful and serene, that people will admire forever.

 

Looking toward the back of the house, a clear line of sight. I don’t think it’s visible in the photo, but you can see a glimpse of the sky, through the front windows.

 

The complex included a carriage house and garage.  Wright loved cars, and owned fifty of them during his lifetime.  Jaguar, Bentley, Lincoln Continental, Packard, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, etc.   This was one of them – – a 1930 Cord L-29 cabriolet, in Taliesin Orange. It’s in the Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, IN. The photo is from the Library of Congress.  Obviously an economical, modest little runabout.

 

 

 

Guest house, forming one side of the complex.  The masonry was made of thin cuts of local stone, designed to suggest the way natural rock layers are visible in outcrops.

 

 

1920's, 1930's, architecture, wisconsin

Taliesen. Working from home.

Image

42 thoughts on “Taliesen. Working from home.

  1. Darts and Letters says:

    I’m going to start wearing a cape. Seriously. But I think I’ll wait until next winter for the phase-in. Taliesen looks amazing. Just looking at those stone floors is causing my plantar fasciitis to flare up, though. Are they throughout the entire house? Looks like oak in the office, at least. Wonder what they were using that Makita drill for?

    • I’m thinking all the floors were stone or concrete, but not 100% on that. I read that he was one of the first to use radiant floor heating, which I’ve always heard is really nice, but I don’t know if Taliesin has that.
      The guide mentioned that if you put cypress in direct sunlight, it can darken quite a lot, my picture isn’t that sharp, but I think that’s why it looks like oak. And yet the house in Virginia, which had plenty of light, the cypress boards looked like they were installed last week, even had a faint cedar-like smell, after almost 80 years!!
      That house, he used fairly big flathead screws (countersunk but very visible) to put up the horizontal boards as paneling, and every screw had to be turned so the slot was horizontal. I don’t remember ever seeing cypress wood used in the north, except by Wright, but I guess years ago, it was cheaper.
      It looked to me, like maybe the volunteers were doing some repairs, there were a couple spots that looked like someone used Portland cement instead of mortar, etc. In NY, the historic preservation people would go bananas if someone did that – – the guide at the Darwin Martin house told us, it took the state ten years to find someone to make replica bricks — skinny flat ones, like the Romans used, the roof tiles they shipped from France, etc. $52 million on that restoration!

  2. For the rest of the day I’m gong to have the Simon & Garfunkel song going round my head. It was years before I realized there was actually a real guy called Frank Lloyd Wright. So he ran away from his domestic responsibilities of a wife and six children. Part of me thinks that’s awful; the other part I have to admit is quite understanding of the fellow. Six children! My oh my. Feel sorry for his wife though for sure. He does sound quite a character. Needs a Hollywood biopic on him. Hint hint Robert: how about whipping out a screenplay this weekend? I’ll only take 5% of your earnings for giving you the idea and setting you off towards fame and fortune.

    • You got it, Denzil, 5% off the top, baby, and residuals. 🙂 (Once I figure out what residuals are!) Wright absolutely would be great material. I haven’t seen the Ken Burns film, but his documentaries are always excellent. I googled “Wright biopic” and apparently in 2011, someone was supposed to give it the ol’ Hollywood treatment, but looks like that never actually happened. Why not?!

  3. I got interested in FLW after Nigel told me about his work and I’d looked at some books on the subject. When we were in LA we visited Hollyhock House, and another private house that we viewed from the street – it was completely different but also amazing. We tried to find a 3rd house but couldn’t find the address even though we tried hard. It was a really hot day and we just had to give up on that one. I loved seeing your photos in this post and appreciate you taking the time to put it together – thanks very much Robert!

  4. It’s always a trip to take a journey through your mind.

    I think that FLW. would have gotten a big charge from this essay.

    He designed a synagogue in the burbs near me. You can find it online if you’re interested. It’s in Elkins Park. I don’t particularly like its design.

    • Thanks, Neil, I had relatives of my grandmother that lived in Elkins Park, but I haven’t been out there to see the synagogue, I saw a picture of it when I was looking at Wright’s stuff, it’s…interesting. It does seem like maybe it’s very likable when you’re inside it.

  5. I found online that “York Peppermint Pattie is an American dark chocolate enrobed peppermint confection introduced in 1940.” Apparently where regular folks would say “chocolate-covered” those in the candy industry (which highfalutins itself into the confection industry) says “enrobed.” I’m not enraged by “enrobed,” just normally cynical about advertising hype. What I’d actually been searching for was whether the company that makes the “confection” ever put out ads with a woman purportedly named Peppermint Pattie. I didn’t find that but a Peanuts website quoted Charles Schulz: “Peppermint Patty, the tomboy, is forthright, doggedly loyal, with a devastating singleness of purpose, the part of us that goes through life with blinders on.”

  6. One day last summer we toured the Darwin Martin complex in the morning and took the last tour of the day at Graycliff. By the time it ended daylight was fading, so we stayed on a while in hopes of getting what we in fact got, a gorgeous sunset over Lake Erie: the Darwin Martin complex in Buffalo, Graycliff: https://tinyurl.com/y8pge2dz

  7. What a wonderful place for self-isolation! It is such an inspiring place suitable for work and relaxation. By the way, I like the layout of your blog, Robert. What theme are you using?

  8. The FLW architecture is stunning.What an amazing place to work. As for physical distancing I think your old jacket would be a good alternative and as you say it has already proven its merit in this field. Now….as for considering pets as an emergency food source you have to remember they must be DEAD before you eat them. This is the hard part. How large are your animals and how do you plan to kill them? You can’t employ the usual veterinary medications as that would render them inedible. So! This is the mental rambling you post has got me onto. I will have to be a vegan in the emergency.

    • haha! Thanks, Anne. I guess I’d actually have to go vegan, too, the pets are safe. 🙂 Although there’s some rabbits raiding my parents’ garden, and I’m actually pretty fond of rabbit stew.

  9. You have to wonder how much of the eccentricity and “my way or the highway” attitude of FLW was required to design the beautiful structures he produced. My favorite house of those my wife and I have owned was one built as as parade of homes model in the late 50’s. It had features echoing FLW but on a Lubbock, Texas suburban neighborhood budget. Loved the house, Lubbock not as much. The roof of the house in Lubbock leaked, maybe in sympathy with FLW, but we caught it before we bought due to a tip from a neighbor and a perfectly timed thunderstorm during a house showing. It was a great house after the new roof.

    • There’s probably a lot of truth in that, Charles. Whenever an artist tries something really original, whether it’s Wright, Twain, van Gogh, Rachmaninoff, etc. a lot of people will mock and ridicule them, so you need a certain toughness to stick with it, and you may as well enjoy the ride.

  10. melissabluefineart says:

    I can relate to the whole frustration with the constraints of reality thing. If I were to design a house, it would certainly be a very impractical affair. This is a lovely post. I can’t believe I’ve never actually been to this house, or any others of his for that matter. One day I must but in the mean time I have your photos to enjoy.

    • Thanks, Melissa, appreciate the nice comment. Yeah, sometimes you see houses with an indoor lawn, or a giant garage with a screen, so you can watch a drive-in movie when it’s raining, etc. No telling what craziness I’d build, if money was no object.
      Illinois has tons of Wright houses, you could even do a drive-by tour, probably. I’ve really come to enjoy these house tours, though.

      • melissabluefineart says:

        Yes, for sure. I have a friend who lives in Oak Park and I always meant to go see his studio there.

  11. His hos in Taliesin is quite something. I am not sure I would have chosen it for my home, but there are plenty of beautiful details. Frank Lloyd Wright must have been quite a character.

    • It’s very pleasant, on that little hill, seeing nothing but fields, trees, and sky, from any room. I’ve gotten hooked on seeing his buildings, an amazing variety. Thank you for your comment, Otto.

    • Hey Dave, thanks, yeah, started off with a little bit of free associating, just kidding around, working from home/on the computer too many hours. Among the million & one things that’ll be great to start doing again – – going around to tour great architecture, I really want to see all of Wright’s buildings in the Chicago area, and west of the Mississippi.

  12. As it happens, I found out just this morning that this Frank Lloyd Wright house has been listed for sale. It’s near Lansing, Michigan. If you’re inclined, I can put you in touch with someone who knows exactly where it is. I’d snap it up, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t make myself like his houses. Clearly, this is some sort of deeply rooted character flaw — or poor judgment. I’ve read, studied, considered, visited — and I’d still be tempted to choose a York peppermint patty over one of his houses. Of course, if someone were to give me a FLW house, I’d not turn it down; I’d turn it, in one of the fastest real estate deals of all time.

    If Hot Pockets tasted as good as your jacket pockets must have smelled, I might be tempted to buy them more often. But, once was enough with those things. Maybe they needed more oregano.

    • I keep reading articles about our reactions to architecture and public spaces, and it seems pretty complex, but also really interesting. I don’t think it’s a character flaw, it’s a very individual reaction.
      For example, I really enjoy seeing I. M. Pei’s building for the National Gallery of Art, part of it has an incredibly sharp angle, and it’s like a sculpture itself, very cool, but if you were a homeowner, it would be incredibly expensive and impractical. But it seems appropriate for art galleries to do…artistic stuff, not always just practicality.
      I walked through the student center Pei designed, at the U of Rochester, and loved the look of it, and the big greenhouse area (in a pretty snowy city), but the student snack bar was dank and chilly, and all the brick & ceramic tile he used, made it a clattering, unwelcoming place. His art museum in Syracuse is “monumental” but it’s always looked like a mausoleum to me, dull and joyless concrete blocks.
      Wright created such a wide range of buildings, maybe there’s one out there you’d like – – the Martin house in Buffalo, is very different from the lakefront house he created for the same family, but with the wife’s preferences in mind. I like to pick up that place in Lansing, just for weekends, and live in it for a while, just see how it goes.

  13. I have never been a fan of much that is modern architecture…or art for that matter. I am impressed with Wrights’ work from a technical standpoint but they aren’t the sort of spaces I’d wish to live in. I’d visit one if I were in the neighborhood and maybe photograph it but not live there…as if I could ever afford one.
    I am not able to work from home as my toil is strictly physical.At one time I had a woodworking shop, now an unused exercise room, and a finishing room, now where all my photographic processing and sharing happens. Since I changed the purposing I cannot bring that home with me.

  14. Tabouleh with fresh mint might not kill the virus but it sure would make me happy. You paint a colorful picture of all the conflicting advice we’re getting these days. It just makes me grateful to be retired, I hate to admit. But you approach it all with your sense of humor intact, which I appreciate.
    Your tour was fascinating – so much better than any I would get if I went, and it actually did make me want to go. I hope you follow only the last of the examples of Wright’s that you listed. It’s safer that way.

    • Thank you, Lynn, yeah, I think you’re right, not the best role model, except for the genius part. Architecture’s effect on us is really fascinating to me. And it’s interesting how people react, often viscerally, to some buildings – I’ve gone into some structures, and immediately felt my mood change, almost like a tectonic shift. One of my uncles is an architect, and Wright is his idol, but he hates Frank Gehry’s designs, which I love.

      • So maybe it’s in your blood…I’m a huge Gehry fan, too. We were walking on the High Line one day a few years ago and ran into the man who had been charge of installing the glass “skin” for Gehry’s IAC Building – fascinating to hear how difficult it was. Have you read A Pattern Language? I confess I don’t own it and didn’t get through it but I perused it. 😉 And Bachelard’s Poetics of Space – you probably read that? Yes, built structures are mood changers, or can be. It’s good talking with you!

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