Do you’re keen on Frank Lloyd Wright? Go to Pennsylvania for a house tour or two of the well-known US architect | way of life
In 1935 the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed his masterpiece Fallingwater. Located in the Laurel Highlands south of Pittsburgh, it’s his masterful amalgamation of home and environment.
It is a bucket list destination and, along with its other homes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But it’s a potentially long journey, so why not make it an entire Frank Lloyd Wright vacation if you’re planning a visit? You can see two more of his homes within 30 minutes of Fallingwater, see other inspired architecture, and if you’re lucky, even stay in one of the Wright homes.
About 30 minutes from Fallingwater is Polymath Park. Think of it almost as an amusement park for Wright fans.
Heather and Tom Papinchak are perhaps two of his greatest. They bought their home in the woods of the Laurel Highlands in 2000. It is not a Wright home but a large 1980’s timber frame house nestled among the trees. Not too far away are two homes designed by Wright’s protégé Peter Berndtson, but the Papinchaks didn’t even know it for years.
In the 1960s, the Balter and Blum families wanted summer homes in the Laurel Highlands, like their friends the Kaufmanns who were building Fallingwater. They contacted Berndtson and asked him to build houses in the Wright style. The homes clearly show Wright influences: a flat roof, large windows, and homes that fit into their natural surroundings.
In 2004 the Papinchaks bought these neighboring houses and the land they sit on with the idea of preserving them and opening them to the public. In 2006, they had the opportunity to save a Wright home from demolition. They moved the Duncan House, built in 1957 in Lisle, Illinois for Donald and Elizabeth Duncan, to the property.
“We’ve seen what that could be,” says Heather Papinchak. “A park of preservation and living history.”
And in 2019, in partnership with the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy, they moved Mantyla House to the 130-acre property. It was originally built in 1952 in northern Minnesota for the Lindholm family.
Today it stands in the woods of Polymath Park, rebuilt by Tom Papinchak and, like the other three houses there, is available for tours or overnight stays.
“We wanted to tell these stories,” says Heather. “We tell them by maintaining a structure that makes you feel connected to nature.” That’s what she loves most about Wright’s designs.
The couple transformed their home into a restaurant called Treetops, now with outdoor pods where you can dine among the trees for an immersive Polymath Park experience.
There are several shipping containers on the property. They hold a design by Wright’s son, Lloyd Wright. The Papinchaks hope to rebuild it as an educational center. As for the vision: “We have 130 acres here. There is definitely potential to have more homes here. It could be a nature reserve.”
Tours start at $28, but there are many options including staying overnight in one of them. Visit franklloydwrightovernight.net.
Less than 10 miles from Fallingwater is one of the last homes designed by Wright (he was 86 when it was built), Kentuck Knob. It is a Usonian home, that is, built as an affordable American home, but a unique example made even more special by its location. This 1950’s house is perched on a cliff just below the top of the mountain for which it is named.
It was built by Bernardine and IM Hagan who were friends of the Kaufmanns of Fallingwater. They lived in the house for 30 years. In 1986, Lord Peter Palumbo of London bought the property for $600,000 as a vacation home. The Palumbos still own it but allow public tours of the property.
It was designed with just two right angles in a hexagon pattern (which is repeated in several places around the house).
Tours cost $28 and include a sculpture meadow featuring works by over 30 sculptors.
And now for the Piece de Resistance: Fallingwater. First of all, reserve early. When we visited in June, tons of people were turned away because the tours were full. But you can explore the terrain there, so it’s not a total waste if you forget.
In 1935, Liliane and Edgar Kaufmann, who ran department stores in Pittsburgh, commissioned Wright to design a summer home. The house was to be built on Bear Run, a 5-mile tributary of the Youghiogheny River and a popular summer swimming pool for the merchants.
The tour begins with a small group and guide walking down the street leading to the house. Our guide noted the natural features around us (the cantilevered overhangs and rock formations) and later associated them with the features of the house.
Completed in 1938, Fallingwater is the prime example of Wright’s “organic architecture.” The house was built around Bear Run, the hill it stands on and over a waterfall. The windows are designed to see the changing leaves throughout the seasons and bring in the sound of the water. Stairs from the living room lead directly to a small platform that sits just above Bear Run.
Inside, you can tour most of the first, second, and third floors (a private suite for her only son, Edgar Jr.), as well as the patios around every corner. The guides also take you through a guest house and garage.
The visitor center itself is certainly worth your time. It was the Kaufmanns’ intention to open the house to the public and their son had a great influence on this. His partner designed the treehouse-like visitor center, which includes two rooms with special exhibits, a café, and a gift shop.
The tours, which last just over an hour, cost $32 per person. Visit fallenwater.org.
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Comments are closed.