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12 Facts About Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater

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Tucked away in the sleepy forests of southwestern Pennsylvania sits one of the world’s most famous buildings: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Commissioned by wealthy department store owner Edgar J. Kaufmann and completed in 1937, the home’s cantilevered tiers hang suspended atop a 30-foot waterfall—Wright’s ingenious way of melding the man-made structure with its natural surroundings [PDF]. Here are 12 facts about the work’s history and legacy.

1. FALLINGWATER HELPED FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT MAKE A COMEBACK.

Today, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) is revered as one of history’s greatest architects—but by the time he reached his late 60s, many critics considered him to be washed up. Wright had only built a few buildings in the previous decade, the Great Depression had diminished demand for new projects, and, adding insult to injury, his younger peers considered his style to be anachronistic. Kaufmann—whose department store, Kaufmann’s, was later incorporated into Macy’s—helped resuscitate Wright's career when he asked the architect to design a weekend home in the Laurel Highlands for his family.

Nobody quite knows how the Kaufmann family and Wright first became acquainted. However, we do know that Kaufmann’s son, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., admired the architect's work, and studied under Wright as an apprentice at his Taliesin Studio in Wisconsin. In 1934, the young student's parents visited Taliesin and met Wright in person. Shortly after, the Kaufmanns asked Wright to build Fallingwater.

With Fallingwater, Wright proved to the world that he wasn't quite finished yet, ushering in a final, fruitful period of his career. Near the end of his life, Wright designed a handful of other renowned works, including the Monona Terrace Civic Center in Madison, Wisconsin and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.

2. FALLINGWATER’S CONSTRUCTION SITE WAS ORIGINALLY A “SUMMER CAMP” FOR KAUFMANN’S EMPLOYEES.

The site Kaufmann chose for his home was a swath of wilderness near the villages of Mill Run and Ohiopyle, on a mountain stream called Bear Run. Once upon a time, the wooded area had been home to a small cabin where Kaufmann’s employees sought refuge from Pittsburgh’s pollution. But once the Great Depression struck, the employees could no longer afford to travel there, so Kaufmann decided to convert it into a country getaway.

3. WRIGHT IS RUMORED TO HAVE SKETCHED FALLINGWATER’S DESIGN IN ONLY TWO HOURS.

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According to legend, Wright sketched Fallingwater in only two hours. In 1934, the architect visited the home's construction site and asked for an area survey. Then, he did absolutely nothing for nearly a year—until Kaufmann traveled to Milwaukee and called up Wright, announcing he’d be paying a surprise visit to his Wisconsin studio, Taliesin, to view the plans. Wright and his apprentices reportedly drew Fallingwater in the time it took his wealthy patron to drive to Taliesin.

Needless to say, Franklin Toker, author of Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House, is skeptical of this claim. “We want to believe drawing up Fallingwater needed only two hours, just as we want to believe—despite massive contrary evidence—that Lincoln scribbled the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope,” he writes. “We don’t want to hear that Lincoln struggled through five drafts on his historic oration because that makes the speech less of a work of genius.” And in this case, one of Wright’s associates remembered Wright and Kaufmann discussing that the house would be built on the falls months before the supposed rush of inspiration.

4. THE KAUFMANNS DIDN’T KNOW THAT THEIR HOME WOULD BE BUILT ATOP A WATERFALL.

According to another legend (many of Wright’s apprentices disagree on key details of how Fallingwater was conceived, so learning the truth is difficult), Kaufmann thought that Wright would design the home on the banks of the river, facing the waterfall, so he was surprised when he looked at Wright’s plans and saw that his country estate would sit on top of it. Wright explained that he wanted to integrate the house with the waterfall so it would be an essential part of the structure instead of simply serving as a pretty backdrop. (You can’t actually see the waterfall from Fallingwater, but visitors can hear rushing water if they listen closely.)

5. FALLINGWATER'S INTERIOR IS DESIGNED TO RESEMBLE NATURE ...

Wright wanted Fallingwater’s interior to feel like the surrounding forest. The 5300-square foot home’s walls and floors are constructed of local sandstone; a rock outcropping is incorporated into the living room's hearth; each bedroom has its own terrace; and its cornerless windows open outward so windowpanes won’t interrupt visitors' view. There’s even a glass hatchway in the main level's floor that opens to reveal a staircase leading down to the stream below.

6. ... BUT ITS OUTSIDE WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE COVERED IN GOLD LEAF.

Wright opted for a rustic, natural look when he designed Fallingwater. Only two colors of paint were applied to the concrete, sandstone, glass, and steel structure—light ochre for the concrete, and Cherokee red for the steel. However, Wright originally envisioned a more flamboyant aesthetic: He proposed that the home’s concrete exterior be coated in gold leaf.

The Kaufmanns thought that gold leaf would be too over-the-top for a country house, and after rejecting Wright’s secondary proposal (a white mica finish), they settled on the ochre, which, according to Wright, was inspired by “the sere leaves of the rhododendron.”

7. FALLINGWATER STILL HAS ALL ITS ORIGINAL FURNISHINGS AND ARTWORK.

Wright didn’t just design Fallingwater—he also custom-designed its furniture. Around half of the furnishings were built into the house, which Wright said made them “client-proof” (i.e., unable to be removed and replaced with tackier/incongruous purchases). Today, Fallingwater is the only remaining home designed by Wright that still has its original furnishings and artwork.

8. FALLINGWATER HAS STRUCTURAL PROBLEMS.

Fallingwater is an architectural marvel, but it still has a few major flaws. Its skylights leak, the waterfall promotes mold growth (Kaufmann nicknamed Fallingwater “Rising Mildew”), and—even worse—the builders didn’t use enough reinforcing steel to support the first floor’s concrete skeleton.

Kaufmann had initial doubts about the technical feasibility of Wright's concept, and he hired consulting engineers to examine Wright's plans. They discovered that the main floor's girders needed additional reinforcement, but Wright dismissed this claim and forged ahead with construction.

Over time, gravity caused the home's first floor cantilever to sag, and in 2002, the structure’s foundation was reinforced to prevent a future collapse. In the process, the first level’s stone floor and furniture had to be ripped out.

9. FALLINGWATER WOULD BE WORTH MILLIONS OF DOLLARS TODAY.

Kaufmann's original budget for Fallingwater was somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000, but in the end, it and a guesthouse ended up costing the family $155,000. (This sum included $8000 worth of architect fees and $4500 for installed walnut furnishings.) That amount now translates to over $2.5 million after calculating for inflation.

10. FALLINGWATER RECEIVES THOUSANDS OF VISITORS PER YEAR.

Fallingwater remained in the Kaufmann family’s possession from 1937 to 1963. Edgar Kaufmann Jr. inherited the home after his father's death in 1955, and he later donated the home and its surrounding 1750 acres of land to a nonprofit trust called the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Nearly 5 million people have visited Fallingwater since 1964, and the home received more than 167,000 visitors in 2015 alone.

11. AYN RAND'S THE FOUNTAINHEAD WAS PARTLY INSPIRED BY WRIGHT AND FALLINGWATER.

Both Frank Lloyd Wright and Fallingwater are believed to have inspired writer Ayn Rand’s seminal 1943 novel The Fountainhead. Its protagonist, the iconoclastic architect Howard Roark, bears a striking resemblance to Wright, and several of the homes Roark designs for clients resemble Fallingwater. Toker even goes so far as to guess that the book’s title—which Rand changed from Second-Hand Lives to The Fountainhead—pays homage to Fallingwater, as both monikers are 12 letters long, begin with the letter “F,” and conjure the image of cascading water.

12. FALLINGWATER HASN’T MADE THE CUT FOR THE UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE LIST QUITE YET.

Fallingwater has received plenty of accolades and honors over the years. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and in 1991, an American Institute of Architects poll voted it as the "best all-time work of American architecture." However, the home has yet to be added to the United Nations’s World Heritage List of significant cultural landmarks.

The U.S. Department of the Interior nominated 10 of Wright’s buildings (including Fallingwater, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and more) for inclusion in 2015. But last summer, a UNESCO committee decided they needed to review additional information before making a final decision. Their requests included a revised argument for why Wright sites should be considered to be of “outstanding universal value,” along with clarified specifics of how the individual properties would be managed.

Additional Source: Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House

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5 Frank Lloyd Wright Homes You Can Buy Right Now
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Courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence

It can be hard for homeowners to sell Frank Lloyd Wright houses, even if they are live-in works of art. Some prospective owners don't want to deal with pilgrims or rubberneckers, while others simply aren't fans of Wright's style, or his penchant for building in far-flung locations. The upside? The architect's mega-fans have a better chance of scoring a genuine Wright original, occasionally at a relatively bargain price. From suburban Minnesota to rural New York, here are five drool-worthy Wright residences that you can purchase right now.

1. THE PAUL OLFELT HOUSE IN ST. LOUIS PARK, MINNESOTA

Exterior shot of the Paul Olfelt House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
Courtesy of the Berg Larsen Group, Coldwell Banker Burnet

Address: 2206 Parklands Lane, St. Louis Park, Minnesota 55416

Asking Price: $1.3 million

History: In the 1950s, Wright designed one of his moderately priced Usonian homes for clients Paul and Helen Olfelt, who lived with their young children in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. A fan of Wright’s work, the couple had written the architect a letter requesting that he design their family one of his stylish single-family residences.

“We hoped for a refuge from the world for part of our day, a place where we could enjoy nature and the beauty of man’s creativeness in harmony with nature,” Olfelt, a radiologist, wrote in 1969 in the journal Northwest Architect. “We wanted a home that by virtue of its character would help us and our children be dissatisfied with the ordinary.”

Wright accepted the commission and briefly met with the Olfelts to discuss his vision, although he never visited the actual site—a tree-filled cul-de-sac—in person. The three-bedroom home's design was completed shortly before the architect’s death in 1959, and the Olfelts officially moved into the home in September 1960, and listed it for sale for the very first time in 2016. It’s still on the market, just waiting for a lucky Twin Cities area buyer to snap it up.

Bona Fides: The Paul Olfelt House comes equipped with a wood-burning fireplace; a fully equipped kitchen; and a master suite with both a dressing room/closet and an en suite three-quarter bath. It also includes many furniture pieces—including chairs, ottomans, desks, lamps, and tables—that Wright custom-designed for the home. Many, if not all, of these items are included the home’s sale price.

Fun Facts: The home has a basement, which is “rare for Wright homes,” a representative from Berg Larsen Group of Coldwell Banker Burnet tells Mental Floss. “He drew the line at the request for a bathroom; therefore, there’s an odd little commode in the unfinished storage area that we refer to as ‘plumbed for additional bathroom.’"

The basement also includes an office, which was designed for Olfelt; a play area for children (complete with swing); and a bar with banquette seating.

Interior shot of the Paul Olfelt House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in St. Louis Park, Minnesota
Courtesy of the Berg Larsen Group, Coldwell Banker Burnet

Interior shot of the Paul Olfelt House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
Courtesy of the Berg Larsen Group, Coldwell Banker Burnet

2. TIRRANNA IN NEW CANAAN, CONNECTICUT

Exterior shot of Tirranna by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence

Address: 432 Frogtown Road, New Canaan, Connecticut 06840

Asking Price: $7.2 million

History: "Tirranna" is an Australian aboriginal word meaning "running waters"—a fitting choice, considering that the U-shaped residence sits next to a pond fed by a nearby river and overlooks a tiny cascade. The home was built in the 1950s, and was one of Wright's very last houses built before his death.

Bona Fides: "Tirranna is one of the two or three biggest homes Wright ever built or designed, just from a size perspective," Houlihan Lawrence broker Doug Milne tells Mental Floss. "As you enter the main room, it goes from very low ceilings to soaring ceilings and glass, with Brazilian mahogany walls and ceilings that are just in miraculous condition."

Tirranna has seven bedrooms, and is surrounded by 15 acres of forest. Also on the grounds are a barn and stable, a greenhouse, a guest house, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a workshop, and gardens designed by Frank Okamura, the landscape architect for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Fun Fact: If Tirranna achieves its $7.2 million asking price, it will set a record for the highest price ever paid for a Wright house. This money will go toward an important cause: mental health research.

Tirranna's last owner was the late businessman Ted Stanley, who died in early 2016 at the age of 84. But while Stanley became rich selling collectibles, his true passion ended up being medical philanthropy. It all started when Stanley's teenage son, Jonathan Stanley, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the late 1980s. His eventual recovery was largely due to being treated successfully with the right medicine. The experience turned Stanley into a staunch advocate for mental health research, and he spent the remainder of his life donating vast portions of his fortune to research institutions like the Broad Institute, a biomedical and genomic research center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Broad Institute employs some of the world's top scientists, who research both the genetic and molecular causes of psychiatric disorders and potential treatments. “My son’s life was saved,” Stanley told The New York Times in 2014. "I would like to purchase that happy ending for other people."

When Stanley died in 2016, he left the Broad Institute much of his fortune. Tirranna's proceeds will also be directed toward the research center.

Exterior shot of Tirranna by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence

Interior shot of Tirranna by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence

3. THE LOUIS PENFIELD HOUSE IN WILLOUGHBY HILLS, OHIO

Exterior shot of the Louis Penfield House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois.
Courtesy of Howard Hanna

Address: 2215 River Road, Willoughby Hills, Ohio 44094

Asking Price: $1.3 million

History: Designed by Wright and built in the mid 1950s, the Louis Penfield House is a nature lover's dream. The restored Usonian home sits atop a knoll overlooking the nearby Chagrin River, and across the street from protected forest, creeks, and hiking trails. The home was commissioned by high school art teacher Louis Penfield and his wife, Pauline, but has operated as a vacation rental house since 2003. New owners can opt to keep renting it or to use the home as a private residence.

Bona Fides: The three-bedroom, two-story home comes complete with Wright-designed furniture, which is included in the cost of sale. Owners can also say bye-bye to heating bills, as the home has a radiant-floor heating system fueled by one of two natural gas wells on the property. And just in case you were looking for even more bragging rights, the home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Plus, prospective buyers have the chance to score two Wright homes for the price of one (well, kind of): "The last original Wright building site in the world is located adjacent to the Penfield House," and is included in the sale, listing agent Karen Eagle of Howard Hanna tells Mental Floss. "The building plans for Wright’s last residential commission, called Riverrock, are owned by the Penfields. The house is historically significant. It is design number 5909, and was on Wright’s drawing board when he died. The Penfields received the plans shortly after his death in April 1959."

Fun Fact: "Louis Penfield was nearly 7 feet tall," Eagle says. "The home was designed to accommodate his tall stature. Frank Lloyd Wright's ceilings are typically low. The staircase is pretty interesting too, since it accommodates for height."

According to legend, Penfield visited Wright's Wisconsin studio and challenged the architect to build a custom home for his towering frame. Wright accepted the dare, and mailed his new client a preliminary drawing six months later. The rest, as they say, is history.

Exterior shot of the Louis Penfield House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois.
Courtesy of Howard Hanna

Interior shot of the Louis Penfield House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois
Courtesy of Howard Hanna

4. THE F.B. HENDERSON HOUSE IN ELMHURST, ILLINOIS

Exterior shot of the F.B. Henderson House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois
Courtesy of Zillow

Address: 301 South Kenilworth Avenue, Elmhurst, Illinois 60126

Asking Price: $1 million

History: Built in the early 1900s, the F.B. Henderson House is an early example of Wright's signature brand of Prairie style architecture. The architect built the home in conjunction with Chicago architect Webster Tomlinson, who briefly served as Wright's business partner. The two are both listed as the home's architects, although Tomlinson was reportedly more like the project's office manager and business agent.

Originally commissioned by client Frank Bignell Henderson in 1901, the home has been on and off the market for the past decade. That said, real estate agents tell Mental Floss that they've seen prospective buyers sniffing around as of late.

Bona Fides: Both the interior and exterior of the F.B. Henderson House have been recently restored, but the property still has plenty of original mid-century charm to spare. And if charm alone won't do, there's also three fireplaces, a wine cellar, and an expansive terrace overlooking the lawn.

"There is a real open feel on the first floor," agent Marilyn Fisher of LW Reedy Real Estate tells Mental Floss. "It’s a massive space. It has a huge foyer as you walk in, and then when you come into the main part of the house, you have a really big living room. On either side of the living room are mirror-image rooms. One side is half of an octagon, and the other side is the other half, making for a wide expanse. It's a very dramatic look."

Fun Fact: The F.B. Henderson House has more than 80 art glass, or stained glass, windows. Wright often referred to these mini works of art as "light screens," as they evoked the look of sliding Japanese shoji screens.

Exterior shot of the F.B. Henderson House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois
Courtesy of Zillow

Interior shot of the F.B. Henderson House by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Elmhurst, Illinois
Courtesy of Zillow

5. THE MASSARO HOUSE IN PUTNAM COUNTY, NEW YORK

Exterior shot of a home on Petra Island, in New York, inspired by designs by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Courtesy of Chilton & Chadwick

Address: Petra Island, Lake Mahopac, Carmel, New York

Asking Price: $14.92 million

History: Some Wright purists turn up their noses at the Massaro House, in spite of its spectacular location (on a 10-acre private island), its spectacular design (a 5000-square-foot home with a cantilevered deck that practically puts Fallingwater to shame), and its spectacular scenery (did we mention it's on a lake?). They say it's just "inspired" by the architect, instead of truly being his original work.

Around 1950, engineer A.K. Chahroudi commissioned Wright to design him a dream home on the island, but the client wound up not being able to afford the planned project. Instead, Wright created a small guest cottage for his client. In 1996, sheet metal contractor Joe Massaro purchased Petra Island, and he also acquired Wright's original plans for the site, intending to fulfill the famous architect's ultimate vision.

With the help of architects and scholars, the Massaro House was completed around 2007. However, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation refuses to recognize it as an authentic Wright design, as they're not happy about some controversial design tweaks Massaro made to the plans.

Bona Fides: The home has geometric windows, a wraparound patio, and boulders integrated into the walls, giving it a natural feel. Other structures on the island include the aforementioned guest house and a tea house.

Fun Facts: If you own your own chopper, look no further than the Massaro House. "It has a helipad," Chadwick Ciocci, the CEO and founder of global real estate concierge Chilton & Chadwick, tells Mental Floss. "I don’t know of any other Frank Lloyd Wright homes that have that."

"Also very important is that the home is on a private heart-shaped island," Ciocci adds. (Really? We hadn't noticed.)

Interior shot of a home on Petra Island, in New York, inspired by designs by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Courtesy of Chilton & Chadwick

Aerial shot of a home on Petra Island, in New York, inspired by designs by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Courtesy of Chilton & Chadwick
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Want to Live Like Snow White? Buy This Cottage
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In the 1970s, one family in Washington state decided to bring the magic of Snow White home—and we don't mean on VHS. (That didn't come out until 1994, anyway.) They built a replica of the cottage from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Olalla, across Puget Sound from Seattle. And now, you can take over Snow White’s housekeeping duties—the house is for sale, as we spotted on the listing site TopTenRealEstateDeals.com.

The house looks straight out of a Disneyland attraction, with a winding staircase seemingly built into a tree, hand-built doors of different sizes with giant iron hinges, stone details and exposed beams, a wood stove, and a rounded interior that “wraps around you like a big hug,” according to the listing. (Good luck hanging shelves, though.) Honestly, the shiny walls look a little plastic, but it’s all part of the Disneyfied appeal.

The interior of the first floor shows a stone oven, a fake tree, and a chandelier.

A spacious room with two different sized doorways looking through to another room.

A bedroom has a mattress tucked into a cave-like nook.

An exterior view of the cottage through an overgrown garden.

Unlike the Seven Dwarfs’ pad, though, this comes with a hot tub and high-speed internet, not to mention a washer and dryer to save any future Snow Whites the effort of hanging laundry. And there’s no need for everyone to sleep side-by-side in twin beds. The two-story “cottage” has four bedrooms and five baths.

The 2800-square-foot house comes on a five-acre gated property. Outside, there’s a sweet tree house with a fireplace inside, a wooden bridge over a creek, and a garden with fruit trees.

It’s $775,000, zero dwarfs included. You can see the listing here.

All images courtesy TopTenRealEstateDeals.com.

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