Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Frank Lloyd Wright: not a knitter

For a while now I've wanted to tour some Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, so I was excited last week to get to the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo for a two-hour tour.  It's a nice easy drive from Toronto and it was a gorgeous summer day, perfect for a day trip (code for in-car knitting time.)

As you can imagine, even the back of the house is a thing of beauty.  There are gorgeous images on the official website linked above, but here's a shot I took of the view from the end of the driveway, basically what you'd see if you left the carriage house and walked back to the main house.  You know, the least interesting part of a property.

Lots and lots of horizontal lines all very low to the ground, all to achieve the Prairie look that was so revolutionary for 1905.  I think that sticky-uppy thing on the roof at the left is a birdhouse (note my impressive use of architectural terms), and the long run of pillars just behind the wall is a covered (but not closed-in) walk between the main house and the conservatory.  That grassed-in area you can just see beyond the wall is very pretty and peaceful too:

I love those wide low planters on the top of all the walls at this place, but I did wonder what the posts in the garden were.  The answer: either they were for clotheslines, or our guide was joking.  I suspect she wasn't.

There's a genuine nod to function in this house - there are windows, and rooms, and heating and so on - but the priority is given entirely to form, as though it is the representation of a house by a sculptor.  In fact, once I accepted that I was walking through a sculpture I really enjoyed the experience.

It's dark inside a Prairie House, and that seems intentional, which is why I say Wright wasn't a knitter without doing any research on that point whatsoever. I would say that he wasn't close to any knitters either, or if he was, he didn't hold the habit in high esteem.

The overhangs on every part of the roof for that low-slung effect shade all the rooms so completely, there's very little natural light inside.  There's an image of the living room on the official site that looks bright and welcoming but I can tell you, at midday it was positively dim.  Who wants to knit in a place like that?  A lot of the interior lighting was also designed by Wright and three guesses whether any of them kicked out enough light to allow any kind of close work.

Apparently Mrs. Martin was so frustrated trying to work in her sewing room after construction was complete and the family had moved in, she made him move the entire exterior wall and its windows out to be flush with the roof on the courtyard side.  Expensive!  (It was moved back during the restoration: also expensive.)

straight lines, defined

Mr. Martin had had Wright build a house for his sister and her family on the same piece of land and oh dear, it was much the same story.  Even on that bright sunny day, the covered porches were dark.  Which is a good thing in high summer I suppose, shade being an effective way to beat back the heat.  And I suppose too it's a testament to our ongoing faith in the arrival of summer (as demonstrated by today's swimming pools in back yards that get good weather 12 weeks in the year) that the long pergola is only covered and not enclosed.   Did I mention this site is in Buffalo, New York, which gets terrible snowstorms every winter?

Another thing I struggled with here was closets, and I hope we just didn't tour the dressing room... though there didn't seem to be anything that could serve as one, anywhere near the master suite.  In 1905, women had already been wearing long dresses with elaborate underthings for a very long time, with no signs of stopping.  And if they had the money to have a house designed for them they were wearing one outfit in the morning, another in the afternoon, and a third for the evening.  So you can imagine my surprise when I checked out the only closet in the master suite, which was perhaps 6' square and had a big (bright!) window.

If I'd been Mrs. Martin, I'd have moved my sewing gear in there and taken over the darker room for my silk and fine cotton clothes, if only to protect them from fading.  Maybe Wright was trying to push fashion forward the way he was pushing architecture forward, by eliminating space to store any of it?

Of the three houses on the site I was most comfortable in the gardener's cottage, seen here from the rear with a lovely addition on the back by its previous owner, to accommodate her grand piano:

We didn't get upstairs in this house, but the main floor was very well planned and cosy.  And there's a lovely long garden at the back of it:

You can actually rent this cottage for events, and they must be lovely.  But if it were a knitting party, I think it would have to be outside where you can see what you're doing.

How good is the light in your place?

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