Color Inspiration From Frank Lloyd Wright

At a Craftsmanship Conference through the PDCA I attended recently, we were priveleged to tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s first home. As a group of craftsmen it was hard to temper our trained eyes and not scrutinize every little fault created by the age of an historic home but overall we were very impressed by the detail and craft put into the home.  

I made sure to document the trip and use the original colors of Wright’s home as timeless inspiration.  

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The home and studio built by Wright at the age of 22 was built on a $5,000 loan in 1889. A few additions and remodels expanded the space to accommodate Wright, his wife and six children. The current home has been restored to its 1909 rendition to the time the home was last occupied by the Wright Family. 

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Located at 951 Chicago Ave in Oak Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, the home is unique and built ahead of its time and in many cases built ahead of the available technologies of the day. Although it started as a smaller building, two major renovations expanded the kitchen and living quarters as well as an impressive octagonal home studio that could house around ten architects working together.  

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Victorian in nature, classical replicas of statues and freezes adorn the home with several items that would have been found somewhat inexpensively in a catalog, the home was built somewhat on a budget and so we see a combination of decadence, prudence and early genius.  

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The plaster work in a Wright home would often go unpainted as Wright himself would select different sands with a variety of specs of color, however here we see a layered olive green which would have had several coats building a depth of color you can almost see into rather than just look at. While not an astoundingly attractive color it may have been flamboyant for its time. The woodwork frames the painted wall recognizing the plaster and paint work as an art piece and not just merely a backdrop. 

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Natural wood with a stained finish is thoroughly displayed throughout the home. This fireplace is put in a tiny alcove, a little cramped, but would keep the cozy area extra warm in an age where temperature regulation was a chore. “Truth is Life.” it says, “Good Friend, Around these hearth stones speak no evil word of any creature.” A reminder to speak kind words in the home. It reminds me of a print in my own home which we prominently display, “Good Vibes Only”.  

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Two commissioned murals find themselves in the Master Bedroom and a children’s play room. After the home was sold the murals were painted over. As part of the restoration process back to the 1909 state, restoration artists removed layers of paint with an exacto knife bringing back to life two works of art packed with meaning and metaphor. In the second mural the abstract figure in the cloud is a genie being summoned. 

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An intricate wood piece installed in the ceiling of this room diffused the light source. In many of the rooms lighting is sparse. Today, light and openness is the quest in a home. Not the case with Wright’s first home. Natural lighting seems curbed until we get to the studio addition. 

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We took an outside path to the studio where Frank Lloyd Wright built his early legacy. Holding up the entry are crane sculptures guarding diligently the engraving of the house plot. A nice homage to his own handy work. The details are striking. 

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Around nine or so drafting tables line the walls of the inner studio where around ten architechts were employed as assistants and apprentices to Wright’s company.  

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The structure itself is octagonal in shape and is well lit. The upper balcony is not supported with beams on the ground but rather the framing of the roof holds the balcony floor up with an intricate chain system. Wright had a knack for outpacing the technology of his time and often threw caution to the wind when it came to soundness of structure. Before the restoration, the upper level had been walled off, covered with ceilings and partitioned off into studio apartments; which is quite aggravating to hear. 

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Above, you can see the chainlink spun around the ceiling space and the fine woodwork that served to support the weight of the upper balcony.  

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Probably my favorite color choice in the entire home was found in the tour of his studio with its gold walls.  

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The metallic sheen of the gold brings out every natural inflection of the plaster work giving it depth and authenticity. With the dark wood finish and teal ceramics this room could be right out of a 2018 Color lookbook. 

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The gold looks amazing with the wood. It’s so hard to find colors that match wood trim work. I saw this and thought “of course, how come I haven’t thought of this sooner?” 

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I left the tour believing that I must bring gold to the people! This house was a special house and some people, like Frank Lloyd Wright are just special people.