Friday, March 24, 2017

Fallingwater has not yet fallen in the water

Because Dear Husband and I have each broken a Frank Lloyd Wright juice glass recently, we are down to five juice glasses. That’s only enough to get us through 2.5 breakfasts before somebody has to wash some dishes. Less than three days’ worth of juice glasses is really not enough on which to run a household, but it costs $40 to buy a pair with the pattern I like and have them shipped. So when planning our trip to Baltimore while on Spring Break, I scheduled a detour to Fallingwater. I was just going to stop off at the gift shop, but the lady on the phone didn’t know the hours, so I bought us tickets for an in-depth tour of FLW’s most famous piece of architecture with the intention of hitting up the gift shop afterward. 

We got up at 6am in order to check in at the visitor center half an hour before our 8:45am tour. I packed us second breakfast to eat in the car while we waited, since the lady on the phone hadn’t mentioned that the café would be open for business (of course). It was a frigid 20 degrees but clear when we gathered with our tour guide Jutta under the wooden awning of the Fallingwater visitor center. I am sure it is a very nice place to sit and wait when the weather is warmer. Off we traipsed down the path, while she recited to us about the Kaufmann family, their employee retreat in the 1920s, and Edward, jr. [sic] introducing his parents to the out-of-work Wright. 

We could hear the water falling long before we could see it. The estate’s landscape is “gorge-ous,” as Bear Run Stream cascades 4 miles long and 1,400 feet down. Wright’s concept for the Kaufmann's vacation house was that it would be integrated with the cliff and waterfall, with cascading concrete, local sandstone, Cherokee-red-painted steel, and mitered glass. 

Here is the house as tours approach it over the stream. I am a fan of the steps down to the water, where the family liked to swim, although Jutta told us these Appalachian streams remain a steady 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit year round, so they would open the hatch and let that cool air waft up into the house as a form of early air conditioning. I don’t know if March is the best time to schedule a tour of Fallingwater, as almost nothing is green, and it was too late for most of the snow and icicles. Jutta said that yesterday they had a great rainstorm that demonstrated how the rounded eaves allow the runoff to fall in sheets off the buildings and along the walkway to the guest house. Unfortunately, most of the outdoor art is still crated to protect the sandstone from the winter elements. 

The in-depth tour includes a stop in the kitchen, whose space was due to Wright and whose trappings were due to Mrs. Kaufmann, including the automatic dishwasher and staff intercom system (we saw one of those in Duncan House). Apparently Wright needed the commission bad enough that he compromised on many of the interior design elements, such as free-standing chairs, but not others, such as the price—the Kaufmanns’ $30,000 summer “cottage” quickly cost $155,000 (about $2 billion in today’s currency). 

The irony of Wright’s confident genius and bold aesthetic is, of course, that if he had had his way, the house would have fallen into the water by now, as he was more artist than engineer, and  in its original design the building was not well anchored. Thank goodness the Kaufmanns engaged an outside engineer, who convinced the team to add some steel to the ground-floor cantilever. That lasted until 1999, when the whole floor was emptied of its contents, stripped to the joists, and re-engineered with extra cables.

The main room has an open floor plan with suggestions of a dining room or living room created by pillars and area rugs. The fireplace has a great kettle on a hinge that can be swung over the flames to heat rum punch or the like. The table also has hinges, so it can be expanded from 4 to seat 19. I was particularly intrigued by the low ottoman/seating pillows with wooden frames; they reminded me of pogo balls from my childhood. The china Bacchus below was perched on the end of a sofa. 

Upstairs were a guest room, Mrs. Kaufmann’s room with a wide terrace, and Mr. Kaufmann’s room with corner windows. Anytime Jutta opened a window, we could hear the beguiling sound of the water rushing underneath us. Mr. Kaufmann’s desk (and jr.’s [sic] desk upstairs) have cutouts in them so the tall window can be opened (see above right). I am a particular fan of the landing where the stairs come up and hallways connect with the bridge over the driveway to the guest and staff house. It created all sorts of interesting negative space.

At the end of the bridge the construction crew ran into a boulder trickling water. Wright knew that trying to seal this spot against moisture was a futile task, so he incorporated it into his design as a water/moss garden (left). 

The guest/staff house up the hill looks like a fairly typical mid-career prairie dwelling, with long horizontal lines. There’s even a pool with its own circulating water source that takes 2.5 days to fill (just long enough to run out of juice glasses!). We ended the tour with a short video about the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which not only cares for Fallingwater and Polymath Park but also more than 5,000 acres of natural land. 

Then we took the tour guide's advice to walk a ways down the river to a little overlook that offers the quintessential view of Fallingwater and its double waterfalls (pic up top). After taking a very cold selfie, Dear Husband and I sat on a cold-@$$ stone bench to admire the scene and delay having to leave. That's when he confessed that I had foiled his plans to have our first kiss in this very spot way back when we were dating more than 15 years ago. We were visiting his family outside Cleveland one August and thought to stop by Fallingwater on our way back to Baltimore, but when I found out my beloved Orioles were playing the Indians at Jacob's Field that day, I convinced DH to take me to the baseball game instead. Not only were the Orioles creamed (14-0), he then made me wait four months for our first kiss. Quelle romantique, eh? If only I had a time machine...

Alas, the Fallingwater gift shop did not carry the style of juice glass we wanted, so we settled for purchasing some books as Christmas gifts and set off for lunch in Cumberland, Maryland. It was a beautiful, sunny day for driving and had warmed up 30 degrees by the time we arrived “home.” 

If this blog has a motto, it is probably "Those who eat well, live well"!

Editor’s note: If you enjoyed this post about Fallingwater, you will want to read the related entries about Taliesin, Polymath Park, and Oak Park.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments let me know that I am not just releasing these thoughts into the Ether...