Introduction to Frank Lloyd Wright furniture

Frank Lloyd Wright is one of America’s most influential architects and interior designers of our time. Believing that a home was more than a home by being a work of art, the designs of Wright interior furnishings were as influential as the exterior frameworks.

Wright’s concept of organic architecture required that the interior sphere express freedom and tranquility as well. Wright stated that “the most truly satisfactory apartments are those in which most or all of the furniture is built in as part of the original scheme considering the whole as an integral unit.”[1] He did not trust the interior design capabilities of his clients to continue the fluidity and harmony of the home. Also, commercially produced furnishings were over elaborate and poorly constructed; therefore, not appropriate to be placed in clients’ homes.

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Dining room furniture, Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. Photograph by James Caulfield. Courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.

One way to detour the issue of non-suitable furniture was for Wright to design and build furnishings that would complete and complement each individual home.  The furniture was an extension of the home.  Influenced by Japanese art and furniture, Wright created furniture that was simple, sophisticated, and subtle. Commonly based on a geometrical grid, his furniture added beauty and harmony to the homes.
There were two styles of furniture that Wright relied on to provide secondary space in his homes: built-ins and free standing. Built-ins became a prominent and common practice in Wright homes starting with his own house in Oak Park, Illinois, which was built in 1889. This concept was practiced up until his death in 1959.  Built-in pieces varied from lamps, bookshelves, beds, benches, desks, and tables.

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Dining suite furniture ca. 1899, Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Collection of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust

Being moveable, Wright’s free standing furniture helped create a spatial flow and open space. Similar to built-ins, his moveable furniture was also built from organic materials. He believed that homes should influence and resemble family unity.  One of the most important rooms to Wright was the dining room with a central table as a place for family time. Tall slated back chairs were a signature piece of Wright furniture, surrounding the dining table and protecting the family from the outside world. The dining table and chairs create a separate room within the eating area. Moveable furniture included: chairs, glass art lamps, tables, beds, and sofas.

For further readings and pictures of Frank Lloyd Wright furniture:

Frank Lloyd Wright: The Masterworks edited by David Larkin and Bruce Pfeiffer-1993.

The Decorative Designs of Frank Lloyd Wright by David Hanks-1979.

 

[1] David Hanks, The Decorative Designs of Frank Lloyd Wright (New York: Dover Publications, 1979), 27.

A beginner’s guide to Usonian architecture

The Great Depression of the 1930s devastated millions of people around the world. When the stock market crashed in October of 1929 so did the hopes of millions of Americans throughout the United States. Living from day to day became a struggle for most Americans as they attempted to find ways to survive. The way in which people thought about every day needs had to change. The concept of housing was no different. It was during this tumultuous time period that Frank Lloyd Wright created the concept of affordable housing for middle-class families that would redefine how people thought of their living spaces. He wanted to create houses that were tailor-made to the client and their individual needs while also making them practical and functional. Thus, the concept of the Usonian home which invoked Wright’s definition of organic architecture was born.

It is said that the name “Usonian” was adapted from events that transpired during one of Wright’s overseas trips to Europe. In the early 1900s, there was talk of calling the United States “U-S-O-N-A” to differentiate America from the new Union of South Africa that had just been established. Wright then took the term and applied it to his new style of homes. The Usonian home concept was Wright’s attempt to create affordable housing but also a changed society in America. Organic architecture was the vehicle which Wright used to bring his vision into fruition.[1] For Wright, organic architecture meant first and foremost that nature be included in every aspect of the home. Seemingly, the home was to appear to have come up from the ground and into the fresh air and sunshine, or in his own words: “out of the ground and into the light!”.[2] Organic architecture also implied that the home had its roots from the ground. Both of these terms reflected his thoughts of how a culture should utilize its roots and appreciate where they had come from, embracing the past in order to move forward toward the future.[3]  For him, the Usonian home ultimately symbolized light, a redefining of space, and freedom-things Wright felt that the people of the United States were entitled to and deserved.[4]

The Usonian house concept that Wright envisioned would be built to suit the client and their needs thus making them unique and different but still in accord with his vision of what Usonian and organic architecture meant to him. To cut costs, Wright often encouraged his clients to get heavily involved with the building which in turn would also help them obtain a deeper connection with their new residence.[5] Wright drew inspiration from the building site upon which the house would eventually sit and used local materials to bring his vision to life. Wright’s Usonian home designs tend to resemble a polliwog or tadpole with the body being the living-room area and the kitchen.  In the case of the Rosenbaum and Baird houses, a study was added to the body of the home. The tail encompassed the bedrooms for the parents and children which were often small with built-ins in the rooms for storage purposes. The narrow hallways in this part of the house were narrow and also included built-in spaces for storage.[6] Usonian homes also contained built-in pieces of furniture, pianos, and chairs designed by Wright for the home. Wright felt that pictures on the walls and furniture were not necessary unless the walls built-in or included in the wall.[7]

Other common features of Usonian houses include horizontal lines used to connect the home with the land, flat roofs with overhangs, use of natural materials such as brick, glass, and wood, carports, concrete slab floors, underfloor heating, access to the outside from every room in the home, and board and batten walls.[8] These homes did not have attics, basements, or formal dining rooms included in the plans. Usonian homes also included a planning grid which usually consisted of a 2 by 4 horizontal grid pattern. Building materials such as plywood were measured by this pattern to cut down on wasted materials.[9] The horizontal grid line pattern is found throughout the houses. One can follow the lines from the floor, up the wall, and even up to the ceiling only to follow it back down the opposite wall and back down to the floor. Though Wright’s clients did frown upon some features of the home, such as the small Pullman car inspired kitchen, the owners of Wright’s Usonian homes felt Wright’s vision throughout their homes as it permeated their everyday lives. Alvin Rosenbaum, one of the sons of Wright’s clients Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum, once described the home he grew up in, the Rosenbaum House, as follows: “…the sensation of living in a Usonian house was that of living in the country without being part of it, of living close to the ground, but in comfort, not in the rough.”[10]

 

Other Usonian houses located throughout the country include the following:

The Jacobs House- Madison, Wisconsin, 1936

Hanna (Honeycomb) House- Palo Alto, California, 1936

Pope-Leighy House- Mount Vernon, Virginia, 1939

Jacobs House II- Middleton, Wisconsin, 1944

Walker House- Carmel, California, 1948

Palmer House- Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1950

Shavin House- Chattanooga, Tennessee, 1952

Tracy House- Seattle, Washington, 1955

Seth Peterson Cottage- Lake Dalton, Wisconsin, 1958

 

Bibliography

 

Lind, Carla. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Homes San Francisco: Pomegranate Art Books,

Rosenbaum, Alvin. Usonia: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Design for America. Washington D.C.: The

Preservation Press, 1993.

Sergeant, John. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Houses: A Case for Organic Architecture. New

York: Whitney Library of Design, 1984.

[1] John Sergeant, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Houses: A Case for Organic Architecture, New York: Whitney Library of Design, 1984, 16.

[2]  Ibid., 16.

[3]  Ibid.

[4]  Carla Lind, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Homes, Archetype Press, Inc.: Petaluma, CA, 1994, 42.

[5]  Ibid., 13.

[6]  Sergeant, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Houses, 22.

[7] Ibid., 19.

[8] Lind, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Homes, 15-16.

[9]  Sergeant, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Houses, 19.

[10]  Alvin Rosenbaum, Usonia: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Design for America, Washington D.C: The Preservation Press, 1993, 21.

Become a volunteer

The Frank Lloyd Wright designed Rosenbaum House is in need of volunteers who love architecture and have an appreciation for the preservation of our local past. They are an invaluable asset to our operations.
Thank you for your interest in joining our team of volunteers.   As a volunteer, you choose the days and times you would like to volunteer as well as your area of interest.  Whether you’d like to work once a week, once a month, or only occasionally, we’d love to have you!

Below are some of our volunteer opportunities:
Interpreter (tour guide) – leads tours of the Rosenbaum House. Training provided.

Large Group Facilitator – Assists interpreters and visitors for scheduled large groups of adults and students.

Programming – Get involved helping plan and execute events throughout the year.

House & Garden – Manned with a dust cloth or pair of clippers, help us keep the house pristine inside and out.

Give us a call or email and we’ll find a time that’s convenient for you to come by and talk about your interest in the Rosenbaum House and becoming a part of our volunteer organization.

Libby Jordan, Director
Rosenbaum House

601 Riverview Drive
Florence, AL  35630
256-718-5050
ljordan@florenceal.org

Explore the life of Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)

Years after his death, Frank Lloyd Wright continues to be recognized as the most prominent and revered American architect of the 20th century.  Over the course of more than 90 years, Wright

optimized-flwlived and perfected his craft, for which he would become known all across the globe. His life was punctuated with worldwide fame, hostile derision, and artistic triumphs.   Wright designed some 1,000 structures of all shapes and sizes: homes, hotels, office buildings, museums, schools, churches, chapels and synagogues, and even a doghouse.

 

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Early Years

In 1867, just two years after President Lincoln’s assassination, Frank Lincoln Wright was born to William Cary Wright and Anna Lloyd-Jones. Influenced by his father’s love of classical music and his mother’s creative teaching methods, young Frank was introduced to famous architecture through drawings and paintings.  His mother believed he was destined to be an architect and design great buildings.  Upon the divorce of his parents, Wright would change his name to Frank Lloyd Wright to honor his mother’s family.  Eventually his family would locate in Madison, Wisconsin, where Frank would attend Madison High School, but never graduate.

As a teen, Wright worked on his uncle’s farm developing an appreciation of nature and a love for architecture.  Upon abandoning high school, he went to work for the dean of the Engineering Department at the University of Wisconsin and spent some time at the University studying engineering.  In 1887, he relocated to Chicago, Illinois.

In Chicago, Wright would be given the opportunity to draft his first building, the Unity Chapel. Within a year, he would work directly under local famed architect, Louis Sullivan. Louis Sullivan would be the one to teach Wright that “form follows function.” Wright would later readapt this philosophy as “form and function are one.”

Organic Architecture

Frank Lloyd Wright became known in and around Chicago for his unique architecture. His Prairie designs were the beginning of true American architecture based on American needs and function, rather than on old European traditions.  Gone were the large decorated Victorians with turrets and finials, gone were the imposing Greek Revivals.  Wright preferred site-specific construction where buildings blended into the landscape rather than being perched atop.   It was with the Prairie homes that Wright began using materials limited to those found in the local area, whether it be brick if there was clay, stone if there was an abundance of rocks nearby, or wood – natural not painted from nearby trees.  These elements became one definition of his new concept, “Organic Architecture.” To Wright, architecture was not just about the buildings, but included the furnishings, and other elements that would help those within live peaceful harmonious lives.

Famous Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings

During his seventy years as an architect, Frank Lloyd Wright would become famous  across the world. He was commissioned to design buildings from as far away as Tokyo.

In 1991, the American Institute of Architects named Wright the greatest American architect of all time.  In 2000, the A.I.A. selected their top ten favorite buildings of the twentienth century: Wright’s Fallingwater topped this list, with the Robie House, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Johnson Administration Building also among the select few.

Today, Wright is well known for architectural designs such as the Prairie, Concrete Block, and Usonian.  His ideas about the environment and architecture allowed for truly unique buildings that are still loved, even today.

Learn about the Rosenbaum family

THE ROSENBAUMS AND THEIR HOUSE

An American architectural treasure, the Rosenbaum House is the only structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the state of Alabama and the only such house in the southeast that is open to the public.optimized-family

The Usonian designed house was offered by Wright as a low-cost home for middle income families.  With Wright’s plans, a young family could build their own home, fulfilling the American dream of home ownership.  Built for newlyweds Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum in 1939, the house originally contained 1,540 square feet, but when the household grew to include four sons, the family called upon Wright to design an addition.  In 1948, 1,084 square feet were added.  This seamless addition clearly shows Wright’s concept of a Usonian house that could grow with the family as it grew.

Considered by John Sergeant and others to be the purest example of Wright’s Usonian design, the Rosenbaums were the sole owners and occupants of the house until 1999, when the City of Florence  acquired the house and developed a plan to restore the house using a capital improvements account funded by a one-cent sales tax.  Dozens of volunteers and professionals contributed to the restoration, without which, the house may have been lost.  This treasure, meticulously preserved, is now a city museum, open to the public.

Family Background

Louis Rosenbaum was an immigrant who fled Poland as a child with his mother and younger brother.  As an adult, he married and moved his wife, Anna, and only child Stanley, to Florence where he began establishing movie houses.  At one time, Louis owned 12 movie theaters – the going entertainment of the day.   Stanley spent most of his young life in Florence, attending Harvard University at aged 16 where he graduated with honors, followed by the University of Denver for his Master’s degree.  An intellectual, Stanley spoke five languages and would become a professor of English at the local university.  In 1938, he met and became engaged to Mildred Bookholtz, a native of NYC where she lived with her family.   Mildred studied music and art at Hunter College and attended Columbia Teachers college during which time she worked as a model for the John Robert Powers Agency appearing in Vogue and other national magazines.

As a wedding present from Stanley’s parents, the young couple received $7,500 and a piece of property on which to build a house.  They contacted their friend Aaron Green, an architectural student at Cooper Union in New York.  Aaron is the one who suggested they contact Frank Lloyd Wright, aware of the new inexpensive Usonian house that Wright had designed for the Jacobs family three years earlier.  He wrote the letter of commission to Wright on Stanley’s behalf and it was accepted.    In subsequent years, Aaron Green became a valued apprentice and member of Wright’s team working with him until Wright’s death in 1959. The Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum House would be the second Usonian house built, one of only 25 pre-war Usonians.