Wright Gets It Right

Fallingwater home - Photo by Ethel Brodie

Fallingwater home – Photo by Ethel Brodie

A Tour of Two Homes

In western Pennsylvania, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture enchants visitors with unique masterpieces called Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. Located in the Laurel Highlands, the two properties are only seven miles apart but each display the Frank Lloyd Wright touch of organic architecture.

The Home Called Fallingwater

Perhaps the most famous of all Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings is the weekend retreat he conceived for the Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh, named Fallingwater. This unique home uses the cantilevered style that Wright perfected and blends subtly into its hillside location, carrying out the effect of the waterfall beneath it.

Edgar and Liliane Kaufmann owned the Kaufmann Department Store in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but enjoyed the nearby Laurel Highlands for their relaxation and time away. The property included woodlands, trails, and a mountain stream named Bear Run. When their son, Edgar Jr., became interested in art and architecture, he was accepted on the staff at Taliesin where Frank Lloyd Wright developed his craft and budding architects worked with the master.

In 1936, the Kaufmann’s contracted to build their retreat and engaged Wright as the architect. His plans were visionary and the result was so unlike any home that had previously been built. Stone was quarried on the property, local workers were trained to erect the unique structural design, and Wright’s plans soon came to fruition.

Wright believed in harmony between nature and people, the building and the land. He designed all elements of the site from outdoor terraces taking advantage of the scenery to indoor spaces which would be functional but in tune with their surroundings.

The Kaufmann family enjoyed their retreat for over 30 years and when his parents died, Edgar Jr. donated the property to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, an environmental group. Tours of Fallingwater began in 1964.

Today, thousands of visitors come each year and marvel at this place. The unique aspects of the home, from the setting over the falls, to the stairway leading from the living room down to the stream, and up to the bedrooms and guest cottage intrigue and amaze those who tour it. The home still presents a modern look seventy-five years after it was built.

The Home Called Kentuck Knob

Only seven miles away, on a mountain top location, is another Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece. This home captures Wright’s sense of harmony with nature in a different way than Fallingwater. It is built in the Usonian style which Wright utilized in designing homes that were affordable for the common people. Kentuck Knob is a one story home that fits seamlessly with the landscape surrounding it.

In 1953, Bernadine and I.N. Hagen, local dairy company owners, found property on a hilltop in the Laurel Highlands. They were friends with the Kaufmanns and loved the design of Fallingwater, so they pursued the idea of having Frank Lloyd Wright draft a plan for their home as well. As this was to be the family residence and not a vacation home, Wright undertook the commission with that perspective. He only visited the property once but had a sense of what was needed to integrate the site with his organic architecture.

The result is a livable home, constructed of native materials, with many built in furnishings and adapted to its environment. The Hagens lived at Kentuck Knob, named for the hill on which it resides, for 30 years. When Mr. Hagen became ill, they sold the property and the present owners began offering tours in 1996.

The large great room with its massive stone fireplace, window walls on the southern exposure, kitchen in the central core of the house, and bedrooms integrated into the hillside, all combine to create a one of a kind stunning home.

Docent Tours

Both properties are open for tours year round. Fallingwater has a gift shop and café on the premises. The house itself is visited by way of a short walk and within the home are many steps between levels. An overlook provides a full view of the house and the waterfall.
At Kentuck Knob, a gift shop is the staging point for a tram ride to the home. No private vehicles are allowed on the narrow roadway. After the tour, there is an option to walk about a mile back to the shop while enjoying an outdoor sculpture garden.

Volunteer docents provide insight into the properties, the families, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Visitors are only allowed into the homes with a guide.

Sources:

Brochure provided by Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater

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