Interior Design - Looking Inside Frank Lloyd Wright

The Architecture of Space

mid-century modern room, slanted ceiling, natural light, stone fireplace, built-in row of seating
Taliesin West, 1937, Scottsdale, Arizona. Jim Steinfeldt/Getty Images

Want the Wright look for your home? Start inside! Architects, like writers and musicians, often have themes in their work — common elements that help define their own style. It might be a central fireplace in an open living area, skylights and clerestory windows for natural light, or  built-in furnishings like seating and bookcases. These photos show how the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) used an array of architectural motifs to express his principles of design for interior spaces. A portfolio of Wright's architecture might focus on exterior design, but take a look inside, too.

 

Living room fireplace at center with sculpted chimney and skylight above
Living Room of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House, 1921, built for Aline Barnsdall in Southern California. Ann Johansson/Getty Images

Frank Lloyd Wright entered the Los Angeles, California market by designing this residence for the wealthy, bohemian oil heiress Louise Aline Barnsdall. Hollyhock plants were her favorite flowers, and Wright incorporated the flower design throughout the house.

The living room centers around a massive cast concrete chimney and  fireplace, whose abstract sculpting is naturally illuminated by the leaded glass skylight above it. The geometric ceiling, although not curved, is geometrically sloped in a way that accentuates the concrete crafting. The hearth originally had a water moat, which was not a typical element of a Wright design — although the notion of water surrounding fire adheres to Wright's fascination with Oriental philosophies of nature and feng shui. Unlike his Prairie style homes, Wright used the Barnsdall House to experiment with all of the feng shui elements of nature — earth (masonry), fire, light (skylights), and water. More »

1939: Wingspread

open interior centered around a massive brick chimney, skylights
Inside Wingspread, the Johnson Family Home Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Sean_Marshall via flickr.com Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)  cropped

 

The home of the President of Johnson Wax, Herbert Fisk Johnson, Jr. (1899-1978), is no ordinary home. The large interior allows us to easily see many of the elements common to Frank Lloyd Wright's interiors: a central fireplace and chimney; skylights and clerestory windows; built-in furnishings; open spaces filled with natural light; open floor plan with a lack of distinction (e.g., walls) between spaces; coexistence of curves and straight lines; use of natural construction materials (e.g., wood, stone); synchronicity of dramatic vertical elements (e.g., chimney and spiral staircases) with the horizontal elements (e.g., horizontal bricks and residential wings in the floor plan). Many of these elements are found in Wright's smaller residences as well as commercial buildings.

1910: Frederic C. Robie House

linear interior, horizontal beams across ceiling, vertical floor to ceiling windows on wall, massive central chimney with sunken fireplace
The Robie House Living Room.

Sailko via Wikimedia Commons,  Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) cropped

 

Walls of windows, a central fireplace, leaded glass ornamentation, and open, undefined space are obvious elements in the living room of what many consider Wright's most famous urban residence. Early photographs indicate that Wright's original design included an inglenook that was removed years ago. This built-in seating area near the chimney corner (ingle is a Scottish word for fire) was restored in the East Living Room as part of a massive Robie House interior restoration project — demonstrating the value of keeping old photographs.

1939: The Rosenbaum House

wall of 7 door/windows, turquoise chairs around coffee table, center fireplace, open floorplan into the built-in dining area, wood, brick, tile, and glass
Interior of the Rosenbaum House, 1939, Florence, Alabama.

Carol M. Highsmith/Getty Images

 

The interior of the house Wright built for Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum of Florence, Alabama is similar to many other Usonian homes. A central fireplace, a line of clerestory windows on the topside of the wall, the use of brick and wood, the aura of Cherokee red color throughout — all elements that define Wright's style of harmony. The large red floor tiles in the Rosenbaum House, the only Wright home in Alabama, are very typical of Wright's interior aesthetic and can even be found in more elegant mansions such as Wingspread. In the Rosenbaum House, the tiles unify an open floor plan — where the dining area can be seen in the background from the living room.

1908: Unity Temple

Interior view, sanctuary and pews of the Unitarian Universalist Church, a two story concrete building at 875 Lake Street in Oak Park, IL, 1965
Unity Temple, Near Chicago, Illinois. Hedrich Blessing Collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images (cropped)

Wright's use of poured concrete to build the famous structure known as Unity Temple in Oak Park, Illinois was and still is a revolutionary construction choice. Frank Lloyd Wright had just turned 40 years old when his Unitarian church was completed. The interior design solidified his ideas about space. Repeated forms, open areas, natural light, Japanese-type hanging lanterns, leaded glass, horizontal / vertical banding, creating a sense of peace, spirituality, and harmony — all elements common to Wright's creation of sacred spaces.

1889: The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio

curved wall, clerestory and skylight windows, hanging lamps, wooden table and chairs
Frank Lloyd Wright Home In Oak Park.

Santi Visalli/Getty Images

 

Early in his career, Wright experimented with architectural themes in his own home. The young architect had to have been aware of the great arches being constructed by Henry Hobson Richardson at Trinity Church in Boston. Wright's genius was to bring exterior elements like semi-circular arches, to the interior structure and design.

The table and chairs, natural lighting from clerestory windows, leaded glass skylight, use of natural stone and wood, bands of color, and curved architecture are all examples of Wright's interior style — a design approach he would express throughout his career.

1902: Dana-Thomas House

Curved ceiling, well-lit room looks like a barrel, wooden furniture
Interior of Dana Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois.

Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division (cropped)

 

Even before the architect's involvement with the Hollyhock heiress, Frank Lloyd Wright had established his reputation and style with a Springfield, Illinois house built for heiress Susan Lawrence Dana. Wright's Prairie-style features are found within the interior of the massive residence — central fireplace, curved ceiling, rows of windows, open floor plan, leaded glass.

1939 and 1950: The Johnson Wax Buildings

looking down into open reception area and work area of modern office building
Interior of the Frank Lloyd Wright Designed Johnson Wax Building.

Farrell Grehan/Getty Images (cropped)

 

The S.C. Johnson company, five miles south of Wingspread in Racine, Wisconsin, continues to celebrate Wright's nontraditional approach to an industrial campus. The open workspace is surrounded by balconies — a multi-level approach that Wright also used in residential design.

1959: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

curvy balconies and spiral ramps leading upward to the round glass skylight dome
Inside the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Fabrizio Carraro/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images (cropped)

 

The open space of the Rotunda swirls in upward movement toward the center skylight within New York City's Guggenheim Museum. Six levels of balconies combine intimate exhibition areas with the undefined space of the main hall. Although there is no central fireplace or chimney, Wright's Guggenheim design is a modern adaptation of other approaches — Wingspread's Native American wigwam; Florida Southern College's 1948 Water Dome; the center skylight found in his own 19th century arched ceiling.

1954: Kentuck Knob

dining room centers around an asymmetric wooden slab table with chairs, near stone and glass windows
Isaac N. Hagan House, Kentuck Knob, Pennsylvania.

Historic American Buildings Survey/Library of Congress (cropped)

 

The mountain retreat Wright built for I.N. and Bernardine Hagan grows out of the Pennsylvania woodlands. A porch of wood, glass, and stone extends the living area into its natural surroundings, blurring the distinction between interior and exterior space. Overhangs provide protection, but cut outs allow light and air to enter the residence. The dining table looks like the forest itself.

These are all common elements, themes, that we see over and over again in the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, a proponent of organic architecture..

1908: Isabel Roberts House

porch with tree growing through roof near rocking chair
South Porch of the Isabel Roberts House.

Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust/Getty Images (cropped)

 

All his life, Frank Lloyd Wright preached organic architecture, and building a porch around a tree certainly made his point for future generations. Isabel Roberts was Wright's bookkeeper and office manager for his Oak Park architectural business. The nearby home he designed for Roberts and her mother was experimental for the time, with expansive, open spaces, and modern interior balconies overlooking lower living areas — much like Wright used in his own architectural studio and later in the Johnson Wax offices in Racine. In the Roberts House, Wright moved commercial design ideas to the residential. And how organic could Frank Lloyd Wright be? No trees were killed in the building of the Isabel Roberts house.

Source

  • Hollyhock House Tour Guide, Text by David Martino, Barnsdall Art Park Foundation, PDF at barnsdall.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/barnsdall_roomcard_book_fn_cropped.pdf