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 (FLW) homes in greater Buffalo, New York. The Martin House Complex, designed from 1901 to 1909, was commissioned by Darwin and Isabelle Martin. My blog entry about the Martin House Complex can be found here. The second home I visited, Graycliff, is just outside of Buffalo on Lake Erie, and was also commissioned by the Martins, as their summer house, twenty years after The Martin House Complex property. Plans were completed in 1926. The Martins started using the property in 1928. When I visited the property, in 2017, the interior was starting to undergo significant preservation work. That work has been completed and I look forward to going back!! For more details on visiting the property, go to the Graycliff Conservancy.
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.
According to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo Venture’s author, Jack Quinan:
“The house is a product of circumstances that differed significantly from those surrounding the Martin House Complex built twenty years earlier. During the latter half of the 1920s Wright was embattled – two marriages and a divorce in four years, two significant house fires, flight from the law, a brief jailing….” Wright was nearly destitute according to Quinan, and Darwin Martin wanted to provide work for him. The house was completed during Wright’s post-Prairie style period and prior to his regaining his career in the mid 1930s.
Darwin Martin had retired in 1925 and his wife, Isabelle, wanted to take charge of building a summer home where their entire family could gather. Isabelle first contacted Wright in March of 1926 – a local contractor began building the house in the fall of 1926, with the completion of the house in early 1928.
The house was built with three original components; the main house, the heat house and the garage with an apartment over it. As you can see in the photos, the house is built with low-pitched hip-roofs. Darwin Martin died in 1935 and Isabelle, who summered at Graycliff until 1943, died in 1945. The house, after being vacant, was sold to an order of Roman Catholic priests (the Piarist Fathers), who established a boarding school on the grounds and added other buildings to the site. In the late 1990s, the Graycliff Conservancy was formed and it purchased the entire site. Much preservation work has been needed to bring the house back to its original condition. (Details from The “Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly, Spring 2015.)
Graycliff doesn’t have the grandeur of the Darwin Martin House – according to the Frank Lloyd Wright Quarterly, Spring 2015 edition, as a summer home, the Martins wanted Wright’s eye for detail, but at the same time they wanted a clean, unfussy aesthetic and to be able to relax, away from the city.
The photos below show both exterior and interior details; much of the interior preservation work had not been done when I visited, so my photos are not comprehensive, but even undergoing renovation, etc., what a great property!! And thanks to the Buffalo News and their photos showing the completed interior preservation work, in 2019.
The simplicity of line, along with the simplicity and repetition of design elements (door knobs, light fixtures, etc.), as well as the bringing of the outside in, are all hallmarks of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs, and also certainly speak to Mission and Arts and Crafts design styles. With the repetition of design elements, including, for example, the windows that flank the living room on the first floor, and line the gallery on the second floor, FLW creates a rhythm to the home. And provides a relaxed atmosphere….
In addition, the sight lines that FLW provides, whether in the interior, the view along the gallery, or the views outside the living room and dining room, create an expansiveness. There are intimate spaces as well, including the library off the living room (which I don’t show), and the bedrooms; most of us like both types of spaces, depending on time of day, how we feel on any given day, etc. The materials used on the outside of the house also move into the inside, for example, the stones (on the floor and the fireplaces) and provide a strong connection from outside to inside.