Laurel Highlands | Pennsylvania


For a man who loved designing houses so much, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s biggest goals was to get people outside. In Fallingwater, the hallways are dark and narrow. They act like a compressor. When you walk into a bedroom the ceilings are low (Wright believed anyone over 5’8” was a weed), and they're the same level as the windows. Your gaze is immediately drawn outside and your body is immediately propelled onto the patio. It acts like a release valve. The patio is cantilever, one of Wright’s favorite design themes, jutting out without support like a diving board. It's like you’re at the edge of something else entirely. 

The other design themes Wright used were horizontal lines, circles and semi circles, and varying levels cascading like a waterfall. 


Bear Run Creek runs below the cantilever deck, falling and spinning over giant boulders and gnashing down hillsides of rhododendron. Beneath the house, stairs walk down to the creek. Visitors can open a porthole in the middle of the living room, walk down to the water and stick their feet in. The creek serves as natural AC, and windows cover three sides of the house for ventilation. All this venting creates moisture. Wright made all the custom furniture and paneling in the house out North Carolina Black Walnut and gave it the same moisture repelling qualities as ship-grade wood. The other materials he used were reinforced concrete, Pottsville sandstone, steel painted Cherokee Red (his signature color), and glass. Much of the furniture was built into the floor and the walls so it couldn’t be moved in or from the house. Wright was a control freak.

Natural elements, other than the creek, included rocks, feeder streams, and privacy plants. The boulders that support the house are also in the kitchen and the living room. While on the tour, my dad turned to me and said: “Everyone’s already done that in Sudbury,” the town in northern Ontario where he grew up. Many of Sudbury's houses are built into rock that emerges like giant hills in basements and wine cellars. 

The house also contained rivers of manmade art. Diego Rivera’s “Man Wearing a Hat” stood above the guest bed. Picasso was by the bathroom in the master bedroom. A wooden statue of Madonna and Child made in Central America around 1420 stood dangerously close to a fireplace. A Hindu Goddess dating back to 700 was resting in ivy by a natural indoor stream. Old Japanese paintings littered the house. Apparently Wright made more of his fortune dealing Japanese art than designing houses.

A house like Fallingwater couldn’t be built today. Houses can’t be built over waterfalls. It’s also leaking profusely. When the family who commissioned the home first moved in and found water dripping from the ceilings they called Wright and he said, “put a bucket under it.” 

We went to Fallingwater because my Grandad was conceived in Pennsylvania. I think he felt it was a homecoming of sorts and he’s a man who loves beautiful things. He’d always wanted to see Fallingwater. His body limited him to the first floor -- he struggles with steps -- but I could see his mind spiraling upwards. The tour guide asked for his first impression and Grandad tilted his head up. “Not bad at all,” he said. He turned to me and winked.