While famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright understandably didn’t live to see the 150th anniversary of his 1867 birth, hundreds of buildings and many more pieces of furniture he designed remain as timeless today as when they were constructed over a century ago. Homes, churches, hotels, and schools designed by Wright remain popular destinations both for architectural professionals and lay people fascinated by his strikingly beautiful designs.
As admirers of the architect’s work, we were excited about a planned July visit to Wright’s Wisconsin estate included in the state’s Frank Lloyd Wright Trail. The 800-acre estate is part of what had once been a farm settled by Wright’s grandparents. Located in Spring Green, 45 miles west of Madison, it is where Wright lived, worked and taught.
Wright chose “Taliesin,” (Tally-Ess-In) a Welsh term meaning “shining brow,” for the name of the home he built around the brow of a hill. The house is the central feature of the estate, which comprises seven buildings including a school, a large barn and the home of a sister.
Tours originate in the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center, a building Wright designed as a restaurant. Unfinished at his death, the building was later completed and operated for a number of years as a restaurant and bar before being reacquired and incorporated into the Taliesin estate. The visitor center includes a gift shop and an attractive café. It is also where tickets are sold for a variety of guided tours including a house tour, studio and theater tour, highlights tour, and a twilight tour. Not wanting to miss anything, we went all in and chose the most inclusive 4-hour estate tour that requires approximately 1 ½ miles of walking.
Our tour’s first stop was Hillside Home School, designed by Wright in 1903 as an addition to the boarding school for his aunts. It remained open until 1915. In 1933, Wright began an architectural program for apprentices and had the apprentices renovate the school and add a drafting studio. Our Taliesin guide, Shookey Julie, offered commentary as we toured each room. In the theater she pointed out the colorful stage curtain that was created by Wright’s apprentices for his 89th birthday. The design is a representation of Taliesin and the surrounding landscape.
A short distance up the hill behind the school stands an unusual shake-covered windmill with a covered balcony. Named the “Romeo and Juliet Windmill,” it was designed by Wright in 1897.
Our second stop was the home Wright designed in 1907 for a sister and her family. The architect produced a basic design to satisfy his sister who requested “a simple house under the oaks.” Taliesin Preservation recently completed a major restoration of the home, which is offered as a rental for special functions.
Down the hill, we walked alongside Midway Barn, which earned its name with a location midway between Hillside School and Wright’s home. Constructed by Wright’s apprentices, the barn housed animals plus a person or two until the architect’s death. The building is painted Wright’s favorite color of Cherokee red with a foundation, support pillars and milking tower constructed with local stone. The unusual milking tower would be a striking addition for most churches. The barn is currently being used for storage and housing. Future restoration is being planned, but the barn’s interior is not open for tours.
Across the field on an adjoining hill is Taliesin, Wright’s strikingly-beautiful home that served as his primary residence for nearly five decades. The architect considered Taliesin “a life-long project” and was constantly adding and altering features.
Approaching the house, we walked to the top of the hill, Wright’s favorite spot as a child, where we viewed the back of the house as it curved around the hill, courtyard, and gardens with a panoramic view of the scenic countryside.
After entering the 21,000 square foot home, we strolled through the architect’s personal drafting studio, the living room/dining room, a guest bedroom, the loggia, and both Mr. and Mrs. Wright’s bedrooms. Wright’s love of nature was stressed throughout the tour. The windows in most of the rooms were low because Wright preferred an outdoor view while seated.
The home is filled with Wright-designed built-in furniture, including long sofas and bookcases; he also designed chairs, tables, light fixtures, rugs and leaded glass windows. The rooms, furnishings and art work are in keeping with Wright’s striking geometric shapes. Erik Flesch, director of development for Taliesin Preservation, said the home’s living room is “one of the great rooms in architecture.”
Toward the tour’s conclusion, our guide was asked if the famed architect had a favorite building. “Wright did not like looking back,” he replied. “When asked that question he usually answered, ‘My next one.’”
David and Kay Scott are authors of “Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges” (Globe Pequot). Visit them at mypages.valdosta.edu/dlscott/Scott.html.