As the 2017 International Furnishings and Design Association Educational Foundation’s (IFDA EF) recipient of the Valerie Moran Grant, I was funded to visit a number of historic, 20th century properties, to experience great exterior and interior design first hand, and in turn, pass along what I learned to my clients’ projects.

In October of 2017, I visited two iconic Frank Lloyd Wright homes in greater Buffalo, New York.  The Martin House Complex, designed from 1901 to 1909, was commissioned by Darwin and Isabelle Martin.  It includes seven components, according to Jack Quinn, in his book, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo Venture, “… the plan, the main house, the pergola, the conservatory, the garage and stable, the fountain and the landscape – in a continuous narrative sequence.”  The Martins moved into the main residence in 1905, with completion in early 1907, according to Quinn. The second home I visited, Graycliff, is just outside of Buffalo on Lake Erie, and was also commissioned by the Martins, as their lake house, twenty years after the Martin House Complex property.  Plans were completed in 1927.  The Martins started using the property in 1928.

This blog entry covers the first of the properties, the Darwin Martin House Complex and specifically, the main house, pergola and conservatory.  The garage and stable are now the gift shop, the Barton House on the grounds was under renovation and couldn’t be visited.  Also, at the time, the upstairs of the home was not open to the public, and no photos were allowed inside the main house.  The restoration of the main house was completed in the fall of 2019, and I look forward to going back!!

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) was an architect, writer, designer and more.  One of the best known architects of the 20th century, who designed, according to Wikipedia, over 1000 structures.  Much has been written about him, so I won’t go into his biography here, but if you are interested in reading more about his life, go to The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

Darwin Martin House, South View from Jewett Parkway

South View of the Darwin Martin House Residence, Buffalo, October 2017. One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s favorite plans, according to Jack Quinn, it is an important early work of Wright. The main entrance to the home is concealed – a common FLW design feature; it starts just behind the foliage container in the center of the photo. KDZ Designs photo

Darwin Martin House, West View Facing The Visitor’s Center

West View of the Darwin Martin House Residence, Buffalo, facing the Visitor’s Center, October 2017. KDZ Designs photo From The Martin House Complex is a prime example of a Prairie house, a revolutionary design developed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the first decade of the 20th century. The Prairie house style is characterized by rectilinear, horizontally-oriented structures linked by crossing axes and “woven” into their site. The Martin House complex was designed in this fashion, allowing clear, linear vistas throughout the various buildings and surrounding landscape.

Darwin Martin House, East View

East Side View of the Darwin Martin House Residence, Buffalo, October 2017. KDZ Designs photo From Design Components of the Prairie Style:

* low, hip roofs with broadly cantilevered eaves * prominent foundations that anchor the house to the site * horizontal emphasis in masonry, sills, copings, and garden walls * horizontal bands of windows (usually with art glass) * intentionally concealed entrances and sheltered spaces * “organic” application of materials * cruciform floor plans

Darwin Martin House First Floor Plan

Wright also referred to the Prairie Style as Organic Architecture; Wright was influenced significantly by the Arts and Crafts movement that began in the 1880s in England; new designs that reflected social reform (away from industrialization, for example) and didn’t follow prior historical movements were established.  Wright viewed the entire architectural enterprise, including the interior, as his responsibility and it was important to connect furnishings, finishes and more to the overall design and to the environment and landscape.

Arts and Crafts objects were produced in all media: metalwork, ceramics, glass, textiles and furniture, while architecture typically provided the context within which these objects were brought together.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.

At the time of my visit, we were not allowed to photograph the interior of the house, aside from the pergola (enclosed passsageway, in this case) and connecting conservatory. I have attached photos from other sites (credited) to give an idea of what I was able to see of the first floor interior.  Many of the following photos are by Sharon Cantillon – Buffalo News:

Frank Lloyd Wright designed almost all the furnishings in the house;  he was exacting about finishes and in the restoration of the home, finishes, tiles and more are all being redone as they would have originally been in 1907.

Darwin Martin House Entrance

FLW typically concealed his entrances from the street, as is the case here. Upon entering, the entry hall is small with the ceiling lower, but moving into the house, ceilings become higher, views of the second floor are visible, as is the long view into the pergola.

Darwin Martin House Reception Room

The reception room, to the left of the entry, when entering the house; the horizontal nature of the house is dominant – the constants that appear in all the rooms that I saw on the first floor include the brick (wider, than higher) and its recessed gilded grout/mortar, which on the horizontal is wider, the furnishings which showcase both straight and curved lines, were made expressly for the Darwin Martin House. The ceiling molding moves in one direction and the ceiling is bronzed to give it a lightness. Dental molding runs from room to room. Throughout the first floor, there are Japanese paintings and decorative arts.

Darwin Martin House – Relating to Design in 2020

There are a lot of “take-aways” from the Darwin Martin House for today’s interior design. The open plans and clean lines of the house design, inside and out, are a far cry from the fussiness of Victorian living. As I wrote earlier, Wright was strongly influenced by the International Arts and Crafts Movement. Repeating features to unite spaces is something that architects and designers do today; the brick work, color palette, dental molding, artwork, and the style of furniture are just some examples. One space flows well into the next. And while there are clean lines throughout the space, some are straight, but some are round or curved to provide more interest. In the living room, dining room and library space, the sight-lines allow someone to see from space to space, while at the same time feeling the separate function of each space, particularly with the interior columns and dropped ceiling “enclosing” each space. The color range is subtle and restful. Today’s homeowner would want to include more lighting, both in general and to provide accents for artwork and task lighting for reading, than was originally provided by Wright. Wright’s references to nature (the fireplace tile, for example) in the interior and having many windows that allow anyone in the space to connect visually with the outside space, not to mention the conservatory and its plants, would support today’s focus on connecting-to-nature promoting wellness.