Fallingwater was the Kauffman family’s weekend home. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright the home’s details are all inspired by nature and clean lines.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, I had always heard about Fallingwater. It was one of the most famous houses designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright and; of course, it had the added draw of a waterfall! The photographs in books painted a picture straight out of a modern fairytale. It was a cabin in the woods where I could actually picture myself living. Despite the fact that we made a trip out to Pittsburgh several times each year to visit my father’s family; it wasn’t until recently that we pulled off the Turnpike at the Donegal exit and headed for Bear Run and Fallingwater.
The house itself was designed in 1935 for the Kaufmann family. If you’re from the Pittsburgh area, that name will probably sound familiar. Kaufmann’s department store was one of the best known stores downtown. The Kauffmans were a family of three, Edgar Sr., Liliane and Edgar jr. Their son, Edgar jr. had a great passion for art and this was key to the design of Fallingwater. It was this interest in art that led the family to forge a relationship with Frank Lloyd Wright when they decided to construct their weekend getaway in rural southwestern Pennsylvania.
When we first arrived at Fallingwater, we were struck by the feeling that we were far away from any town. The parking lot is down a winding road edged with trees that reached over our car, enveloping us in the calmness of nature. Even the visitor’s center was done in beautiful woods and had the feel of a tree house more than an intrusive building. The tour itself began near the house which was still a bit of a walk down another path which took us through more of the forest. It was easy to imagine the family arriving decades ago for a long weekend getaway. In fact, we learned during the tour that Edgar Sr. often asked his chauffeur to step on the gas so he could arrive as soon as possible. Speeding tickets? No problem. Kauffman had one of the most successful high end department stores in Pittsburgh and he’d just offer the traffic cops a discount or a free meal at his store. Not a bad deal if you ask me!
Soon we came upon the house and our guide met us at the small foot bridge. He explained that this house was designed around the waterfall. The family originally thought that the home would overlook the waterfall from across the way; but Frank Lloyd Wright had other ideas. He wanted to make the house part of nature, rather than a house in nature. The waterfall and creek are both integral parts of the home. There is even a small staircase leading down to the creek where Edgar Sr. enjoyed trout fishing. We should probably mention that he had a trout hatchery installed a few miles upstream. I guess when you are a millionaire you can afford to stack the odds for catching something.
The home’s colors are all natural with any metal painted a cherokee red to mimic nature. Frank Lloyd Wright also believed that people were not meant to live in boxes, so he made the windows in such a way that they connected, seamlessly creating the illusion that you were out in nature, even while indoors. The homes balconies also allowed for visitors (some as famous as Frida Kahlo), to be part of the natural surroundings. The stone floors were covered by throw rugs and the house heated with various fire places. However what struck us the most were the world class art pieces including works by Diego Rivera, Picasso, and sculptures from 16th Century Italy.
Each family member had their own bedroom and balcony creating cozy spaces within the home. There was also a guest bedroom in the main house in addition to the separate guest house. We were amazed by the attention to detail and the sleek lines so characteristic of Frank Lloyd Wright. (He was very much opposed to clutter in general and insisted on designing a carport rather than a garage because he felt that enclosed spaces encouraged clutter!) Interestingly enough Fallingwater was a catalyst for one of Wright’s most creative periods of design. He thought he was on the brink of retirement, but this project sparked his creativity anew and it went on to become a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
The family used Fallingwater as their weekend home from 1937 – 1963 when Edgar jr. donated the property to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy who opened the home as a museum in 1964. Many of the art pieces in the home are thanks to Edgar jr.’s love of modern art. He even wound up working as the Industrial Design Director at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It is hard to imagine works by such great artists in a weekend home in the middle of the Pennsylvania wilderness; but in this case everything seems to fit.
While there is no photography permitted inside the home, after the tour there is a beautiful overlook where many of the most famous photographs of the house have been taken. We highly recommend a visit to Fallingwater in the fall, as this area of Pennsylvania has beautiful foliage; however the house takes on a different beauty depending on the season. It is definitely a place to go back and visit again and again. I’m not sure it’s possible to take in all the details of the home or the surroundings in just one visit. In fact, when asked for a word to describe Fallingwater, Edgar jr. paused before replying, “romance;” and he was exactly right.