How would you like to eat, sleep and lounge on top of a waterfall? It may sound like a fairy tale, but for the Kaufmann family, Frank Lloyd Wright made it possible. Wright built the home for the family in 1937 in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. Today the house can be toured by the public, but don’t worry if you can’t make it all the way to Mill Run—come along to admire it virtually!
Just as Beethoven straddled the Classical and Romantic era with his music, Frank Lloyd Wright’s seminal house straddled architectural eras. Fallingwater was designed and built in the 1930s, towards the end of the Bauhaus movement. But the home’s sleek, linear and window-filled design all speak to a movement that was just beginning—Mid Century Modern. Further elements of the home, like its use of concrete and steel and its simple color scheme echo the Mid Mod style we know and love today.
Situated atop Bear Run Falls in the Allegheny Mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania, the extraordinary home made a splash, appearing on the cover of a 1938 issue of Time upon its completion. Built as a weekend home for the Kaufmann family, it offered the successful department store owners an extraordinary place of repose.
In 1963, Edgar Kaufmann Jr. gave the home to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to preserve and share the home with the public. Since then, the Conservancy has taken care of the home and maintained it for future generations.
The home is an expansive 5,300 sq. ft—2,445 of which are terraces. Its vast space (both indoor and outdoor) reflects not only Wright’s organic design but also the Kaufmann family’s love of entertaining. They had specified the need for several bedrooms, but Wright intentionally designed the bedrooms on the smaller side to encourage those within them to spend their waking hours out in the open spaces.
But even that much space was not enough–after the completion of the main house, Wright continued his work on the property with a separate guesthouse and servants’ quarters.
Wright continued his brilliant organic design indoors. He designed walnut furnishings and used stones from the nearby river in the fireplace hearth. The open spaces of the living rooms and dining room feature prominent windows to enjoy the view of the forest.
The glass seems to disappear into the stone walls—Wright designed recesses in the stone where the caulking and glazing is hidden from view. By creating a home that was so perfectly integrated with its surroundings, he made its residents and visitors feel like they were a part of nature too.
The home’s use of cantilevers was quite the feat too. Wright was one of the first people to use a cantilever in a residential building, and paved the way for their place in Mid Mod design.
An architectural feat and beautifully integrated with its environment, it remains a hallmark of American architecture. Learn more about the home or schedule a tour, visit fallingwater.org. Looking for more MCM inspiration? Check out our Winter issue. Full of vibrant design and warm spaces, each home highlighted offers a different take on MCM. Get some retro holiday styling tips, as well as helpful hosting ideas from our columnist, Robert Maurer. Read up on some Scandinavian architects and get a glimpse of their work and influence on MCM design.
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