Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob - House and Home
Nature is my manifestation of God. I go to nature every day for inspiration in the day's work.
I follow in building the principles which nature has used in its domain.
--Frank Lloyd Wright








Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) essentially created organic architecture. Arguably America's greatest architect (at least his Foundation thinks he is), Wright's unique style and strict adherence to his own design principles, often to the frustration of other tradesmen commissioned to work with and for him, made him a controversial figure during his lifetime.

Whatever legacy the man has, the two homes he designed in southwestern Pennsylvania are testament to his cleverness and to his ever-evolving understanding of the relationship between man and nature. Yes, I mean "man" in the all-inclusive sense, however, had Wright been a woman, his houses would have had a LOT more closet space and had he been a collector, they'd have had more storage space... Usonian architecture (think utilitarian with style) doesn't work for a pack rat!

The day Bill and I went to Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob was cool and drizzly - not the ideal conditions under which to visit Fallingwater, which should, in the words of our tour guide, be seen when the heavens have opened up and let loose with all the fountains of the deep. Or, barring that, in bright sunshine. C'est la vie. The setting is still beautiful and the house is quite an experience.

This is the top of the stream that becomes the famous waterfall. It drops something like 1,200 feet (don't quote me on that) in 4 miles, a good chunk of it under the house itself.

The driveway for Fallingwater runs between the house on a lower ledge and the guesthouse, which sits about 100 feet higher on the bluff. The beams above form both a decorative connection from the house into the bluff and a structural support system, though only the beams on either end are actually load-bearing beams. Pretty amazing, when you stop to consider how precariously positioned the whole structure is!

Part of Wright's uncompromising adherence to principle included disturbing nature as little as possible. This driveway beam was contoured to allow an existing tree to stay when the house was built; conservation practice by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is to replace trees as original specimens reach the end of their natural life cycles.

This is out of order from the tour, but it shows the driveway trellis from above. The design continues in the guesthouse above, as well.

I won't say too much about the experience of entering Fallingwater for the first time; you should experience it for yourself. Our first exposure to the interior was the kitchen, not part of the usual tour. Alas, none of my interior pictures showing elements of the kitchen came out; I think my batteries were dying by that point. But one word expresses it: small. For those of you who ever saw my house in Attleboro, the kitchen there was not that much smaller than the one at Fallingwater. Very little counter space, barely adequate cabinet space, and a table for the staff meals right in the middle of it all. Mr. Wright, can we talk?

Once you get into the house, you're treated to this grand view of the Greatroom, an innovation of Wright's that caught on to greater or lesser degrees around the country. Most of the furniture (maybe all) is also of Wright's design; he was big on built-in furniture because it was "client proof" - since it can't be moved, his clients couldn't mess with his vision. I wonder how many people bought FLW houses and renovated before he became the icon he is now...

This is a closeup of the settee along the fireplace wall in the Greatroom. I love the detailing in the wood, which was cut and used according to exacting specifications so that the grain would not only run the right way but would match exactly during assembly. All the woodwork in the house is done the same way; to me, it's one of the best features of the house.

These two pictures show an interesting feature of the fireplace, which has a built-in soup kettle that swings in and out of its own alcove.

You can see the indentation in the wall behind the bar; notice also that the iron work is the same color as the exterior metal work, another way Wright worked to blur the distinction between indoors and outdoors.

The dining area is stunning and clever. Fold away tables that expand the seating from 5 to 20 are stored in the cabinets behind the table. The kitchen is behind the closed door to the left. That door is open but roped off during regular tours; since we started in the kitchen, they kept it closed so we wouldn't see the dining room until we were inside the actual house.

The coolest feature of the house in my mind - and one that I would LOVE to have in a house someday (even if it's not into a river-fed pool) is the entry from the Greatroom into the Plunge Pool. It opens just like the hatch on a sailboat; the glass cover slides back to reveal the stairs down to the pool. You'll see an exterior view of the plunge pool below.

Wright was one of the first architects to use fluorescent lighting in private homes, but he did so in ways that make you wonder if the tour guides are pulling your leg. This overhead light in the Greatroom is a combination of those hideous fluorescent tubes and unbleached muslim - a compromise on Wright's part because he wanted rice paper but couldn't get it in a large enough piece to do the job.

The guest bedroom is very small. The picture above shows the detail of the woodwork and a cleverly placed window between the interior wall and the outside wall. Because of where the windows are and who could see into the room, the windows in the guest room are the only ones with any treatments at all - Venetian blinds, of all things. I'm surprised; I expected something far better looking (though not necessarily easier to clean) from Wright.

The Kaufmans, who commissioned Fallingwater, were the owners of Pittsburgh's premier department store. Mrs. Kaufman supervised the high end gift department and supplied her customers with the best of the best, particularly many items by Louis Tiffany. Tiffany's work dovetailed with Wright's aesthetics because both men used nature as their inspiration. This lamp in the master bedroom demonstrates how Tiffany brought the shapes and colors of flowers into his designs.

The entire third floor is the suite once occupied by the Kaufman's son. That wasn't the original intent for the space; in fact, what became his bedroom had originally been planned as the anchor for the bridge to the guesthouse. However, after the Kaufmans had spent their first summer in the house and before work on the guesthouse began, Mrs. Kaufman decided that climbing the many narrow stairs to the third floor after a long, leisurely dinner with lots of wine and other beverages might not be the best idea for her guests. She asked Wright to rethink his design, which he did by anchoring the bridge on the second floor instead. Kaufman, Jr., took advantage of the newly available space on the third floor by converting the original bedroom into a library and using the original bridge anchor as his bedroom. His is the only bed that faces the windows; he liked it because he said he felt as though he were sleeping under the stars at night, despite the strong morning sun early in the day. Bill's reflection is on the right, by the way.

Another innovation of Wright's was his unobstructed corner window. He had two versions at Fallingwater; one was the glass corner, where two sheets of glass meet at a corner permanently with very little reinforcement to cause a visual interruption (an example comes later). The other, seen here, is his open corner window, designed to allow nature to come into the room. It's an impressive sight - and sound. Opening these two windows in the third floor library changed the music of the waterfall tremendously. Wright objected to the addition of the screens, but let's face it: unless you build in the Arctic or on Anarctica, you're going to have nasty little flying things coming in unless you have screens.

This picture was also taken from the third floor balcony, looking down to the master bedroom balcony on the left and to the Greatroom balcony (and a high school group) on the right. The picture below is of the Greatroom balcony from the stairs going up to the guesthouse.

The guesthouse includes the servants' quarters. Now, the servants' quarters are the offices of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the staff of Fallingwater. They're kind enough to allow those who go on the in-depth tours to peek in, but since people were working, I didn't take any pictures. Consistent with Wright's egalitarian views, it's not surprising that the servants' quarters are just as beautifully constructed and decorated as the house and the guesthouse. The only major difference is that where each bedroom in the house and guesthouse has its own bathroom, the servants (3 or 4, depending on whether a married couple worked for the Kaufmans) shared one bath.

The guesthouse itself is beautiful. It has a Greatroom and a bedroom as well as a patio with its own pool for the use of guests. Notice in the first picture (of the Greatroom) the detailing on the cantilevered covered walkway, which Wright designed to look like a terraced garden. The second picture is taken from inside the bedroom looking out to the pool, you can see the magic of the glass corners.

All the exterior edges of the roofs at Fallingwater are curved. Wright designed this feature so that in the rain, the house itself would become a waterfall. In this detailed picture, taken at the guesthouse, you can see how the water tracks. Even if I did take this picture, it's a pretty doggone good one!

This is a picture of the plunge pool. You can see the stairs coming down from the Greatroom on the left. The statue is by Jacques Lipchitz, which caused us no end of laughter because of a conversation we had on the way out there. I'm not a morning person and he operates on autopilot until about 8 a.m.; I'm surprised either of us remembered the conversation to make the connection! However funny the name was at the time, a bit of further research reveals that the piece, "Mother and Child", was created in its final form as a response to Nazi persecution during World War II after the artist escaped from Paris.

Additional exterior pictures:

The main house from the guesthouse. Here you can see the terracing effect of the folded cement canopy, complete with the garden pot as Europen gardens often have.

This is the waterfall from the master bedroom balcony.

You don't often see this view of the house, with or without Bill in it. This is a land-side view looking across the stream from the path down from the visitor's center. It looses a lot in this view, truthfully.

And this, of course, is the view we all know. It's also the view that just BEGS for a group photo. Brangelina, eat your hearts out:

The key, of course, is to have one like this in every season. I still don't get how Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got such a good winter picture when they came in December; we had a snowfall that same week but no weather cold enough to even begin to freeze the lake, never mind moving water!

If Fallingwater is a beautiful house, Kentuck Knob is a beautiful home. We couldn't take interior pictures at the Knob because it's a still in use as a private home, though the owners are British and spend most of their time when they're in America at their farm below the Knob.

Kentuck Knob is 20 years newer than Fallingwater and is one of the last projects completed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Hagan family had enjoyed their summers with the Kaufmans at Fallingwater and were inspired by the beauty of that property to commission Wright to design a home for them on their own property 6 miles away. Built from native sandstone and gorgeous tidewater red cypress with a copper roof, Kentuck Knob uses nature's non-perpendicular angles to nestle into the hillside just below the crest of the Knob itself. Hexagonal at its core, the rooms are parallelograms of 120 and 60 degree angled corners, which leads to some incredibly narrow hallways. But it also make each room unique in alignment and layout.

Like Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob has a Greatroom. Unlike the older house, however, the Greatroom at the Knob has a feeling of grandeur to match the open spaces that surrounded the building site at the time. The northern wall has small celestory windows to protect from the elements, but the southern wall - indeed, the entire southern exposure of the home - is glass set into frames of the tidewater red cedar.

You can see some of this in this picture, taken on the southern patio:

Those skylights are placed, by the way, such that in the summer the sun never comes into the Greatroom but in the winter, the sunlight brightens the room in the afternoon. That took some study and planning.

Margaret Hagen was able to get Wright to make several changes to his original design to accommodate things she and her husband wanted. None of her requests interfered with the concepts he imagined, which is in large part why he complied so easily. Interestingly, once the Hagens knew that Wright wouldn't be coming back to the house, they made one change he would have thoroughly disliked: they added an attic above the main hallway. Good for them!

Since I don't have pictures, I can't really explain much more. Suffice to say, do both houses. You'll appreciate the features of each more in comparison and contrast - and the Kentuck Knob website doesn't do the home justice, probably as much because it's a private residence as anything.

You can understand why the Hagens wanted to build on the Knob from this picture, which is a view to the east northeast from the top of the hill. Schellsburg is about 60 miles away in this same direction.

The current owners, Lord and Lady Palumbo, like modern sculpture. They have a sculpture garden on the grounds; truthfully, the only things that intrigued me were a couple of stonework sculptures and the sections of the Berlin Wall on display:

Might as well capture a part of the event that changed my career path!

The other cool art on the grounds were a series of sound sculptures made from beryllium copper. In the wind, these sculptures resonate with a fascinating tone. In this picture, you can also see the back corner of the home, where the master bedroom nestles into the hillside.

So I've finally been to Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. I'd be happy to go back with any guests who want to go.

I don't know that I personally would take the in-depth tour of Fallingwater more than one more time, probably in the fall sometime. I don't think they do house tours at all in winter, but if they do, I'd love it. There's enough to do on the property that guest who want to enjoy the opportunity to take pictures in the house could do that while I hike or sit and enjoy the outside.

I would, however, love to do the in-depth tour of Kentuck Knob sometime. It's a fascinating home.

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