Come On! Feel the Illinoise!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Whenever I think of Chicago I always think of this Sufjan Stevens song:

Chicago, the New Age
But what would Frank Lloyd Wright say?
Oh, Columbia
Amusement or treasure
These optimistic pleasures
Like the Ferris wheel

While studying art & design, so many Chicago related things were highlighted, The World Columbia Exposition, the architecture of Chicago and of Frank Lloyd Wright and The Armory Show of 1913. Finally going there and seeing everything in person was just as fabulous as I expected. The cityscape is very unique and the downtown is full of public art. Four days was hardly enough to get in all the sightseeing, gallery going, shopping and eating.

The Art Institute of Chicago was one of the original hosts of the 1913 Armory Show and has an impressive collection of the work that was first exhibited in it. Some highlights for me including seeing paintings I had previously only seen in books and some I had spent hours writing reports about from artists such as; Toulouse-Lautrec, Kandinsky, Cy Twombly, Robert Motherwell, Kazimir Malevich, Gerhard Richter and Robert Rauschenberg. Two of the Institute's 'must see' paintings are Wood's 'American Gothic' and Seurat's pointillism masterpiece 'A Sunday on La Grande Jatte'. The Institute itself was beautiful and offered perfect views of the city. I would also recommend taking a well deserved break in their restaurant- we stopped for lunch and it was delicious. 

My parents had visited Chicago with friends earlier in the year and heard about the 'All Wright Housewalk 2014' while touring the Frank Lloyd Wright studio and home in Oak Park. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust's renowned annual housewalk features rare interior tours of private homes and public buildings, that were all designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in his Oak Park Studio. This years' housewalk marked the 125th anniversary of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio and the 40th anniversary of the Trust.

Chicago's Oak Park neighborhood has the largest number of Wright-designed homes anywhere. Normally you can tour the area and only view the homes from the outside but for the housewalk you get to tour the inside of these homes as well. The trust did an amazing job ensuring the tour was run smoothly. As private homes they made sure everything was kept clean (which would be my nightmare-thinking about the thousands of people traipsing through my house) by shrink wrapping all the carpets and laying down mats everywhere. It was incredibly efficient because they allowed groups of 10 at a time to pass and staged guides at various spots inside the homes, moving groups from guide to guide-like a conveyor belt. While you had to line up to enter, the time passed quickly and there were guides with interesting anecdotes while you waited.

Wright's groundbreaking  vision and belief in the integrity of the natural and built environment has lead to homes that although designed in the early 1900s feel thoroughly modern today. At that time the average house was in a very traditional Victorian style. While I couldn't take any pictures of the interiors here some of the exteriors of the houses we visited. I am also no specialist in architecture so don't expect any revelations but I will tell you about what all the kitchens looked liked.

William E. Martin House (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1903). This house was in Wright's 'Prairie' style and featured original murals and a water garden. I enjoyed the updates the homeowners made to this kitchen that kept it looking period appropriate with matching dark wood cabinets and leaded glass but also added modern features like an island. Their decor was also contemporary but fit with some of the cozy dark wood accents featured in Wright's design. 

Rollin Furbeck House (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1897). Pre-Prairie Wright with three-story central tower, echoes of Louis Sullivan’s  (Wright's mentor) decorative techniques. While the decor was not to my taste there was a beautiful back deck and pool. We also talked with the owner who was outside. He had spent over 14 years renovating this home. I also thought the exterior colour was perfect.

William G. Fricke House (Frank Lloyd Wright and Webster Tomlinson, 1901). This home had very interesting lines - balancing the horizontal and vertical which is another feature of Wright design. The owners had just completed an 8 month renovation of the kitchen ending just in time for the tour. 

Isabel Roberts House (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1908). Combination of Prairie and Usonian styles, spanning Wright’s career from 1908 to 1956. Wright's  Usonion style was designed to control costs, the houses had no attics, no basements, and little ornamentation. Although this was a smaller house it was really my favorite. I mean it had a tree growing out of the enclosed porch!

The house was built for Isabel Roberts and her mother. Isabel worked with Wright and it was suggested that she took part in drafting some of the plans. She later went on to open her own architecture firm with partner Ida Annah Ryan in Florida in the 1920sThe house has undergone two renovations, the first by Prairie school architect William Drummond in 1922 (who also lived next door). In 1958, Frank Lloyd Wright undertook a second remodeling of the house, which brought the design to where it remains today. 

While I appreciate Wright's other work I think this home is closest to a style I love and could actually see living here. It has lighter wood and a stone floor and feels very mid-century modern. The owners have done a fabulous job with the decor and have authentic pieces from that time period as well as beautiful art (they even had quite a bit of Inuit art). 

Arthur B. Heurtley House (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1902). National Historic Landmark furnished in Wright style with dramatic art glass. This house was certainly imposing. I didn't really like the exterior as the brick seemed very orange. The floral arrangements outside were gigantic but fit with the size of the house.

I found an interior picture of the home (the decor is no longer the same) that highlights the very typical Wright style: wood trim work, a fireplace as a feature with a built in 'inglenook', art glass and built in furniture.


Ok, have you seen enough Frank Lloyd Wright in one sitting? I have to admit by the end of the day I felt like they had all merged into one. I would still highly recommend this tour to anyone, who like me, loves architecture and design and who also loves to snoop into other people houses. All the homes in the neighborhood were gorgeous - even the traditional Victorians that Wright was so against. Here were two others that I though were charming:

So now that we got that out of the way, more about two other very important things - eating and shopping. We tried a few amazing restaurants: The Little Goat (sister restaurant to The Girl and the Goat - a great diner with updated diner food, The Silver Palm - a bar/restaurant in an old railway dining car, tacos at Big Star and then splurged at Moto with their tasting menu. This turned out to be hilarious because we had to continually guess what we were eating and there were some pretty interesting food combinations - overall a good experience though. The 'roast your own marshmallow' part was my favorite. 

And then the shopping...we walked the 'Magnificent Mile' and toured around the Wicker Park/Bucktown area but  I had also  requested a specific stop into Jayson Home & Garden. I took some pictures inside so that you too may see the splendor that is incredibly overpriced but inspirational home decor.

I think that about wraps things up. I hope you enjoyed my travelogue and Frank Lloyd Wright Tour kitchen comments. If you have a chance next year, try and take part in the Wright open houses. They open different homes up every year so it's never the same. I'm off to make Chad write up his Tech Tips Part Two, so anyone who started making a stair railing and got left in the lurch- fear not!

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