Designed in 1937, by Frank Lloyd Wright, Wingspread is the name of Herbert Fisk Johnson’s home. Shaped like a pinwheel, when seen from above, the home lays low in the landscape and gives one a sense of calm and harmony whether you’re inside or out. Wright had such a talent for beautiful architecture that makes you feel serene.
I got to go to a free tour of the home on Sunday. They offer two afternoon tours, which begin with a short talk providing background into the home’s history. Johnson commissioned Wright to design the home for his second wife and their blended family of six. However, she died before it was completed so only Johnson, his third wife and his two children lived in it.
The home has five fireplaces, a big common area which consists of a space for reading and listening to music, spaces for conversation and a dining area. There are lots of windows and several glass doors in the central part of the home.
After the talk, we saw a 20 minute video with the two people who grew up in the home, who were able to share some great stories. First Sam, the son, said that the 8 foot tall fireplace was designed to hold long birch logs that filled it till the top. They used this once. While it looked beautiful, as you might figure, after a time when the logs started to burn and crumble. The logs eventually gave way and started to fall into the room. The family and servants had to spring into action and throw the logs out of the house and over the balcony.
Typical of a Frank Lloyd Wright home, the windows leaked a lot and the kids and servants had to run around with buckets whenever it rained. In the end Johnson hired a shipmaker to fix the windows they way they’d fix portholes.
Another feature that didn’t work was a retractible, rolling dinner table that moved into the kitchen via slots. The idea is the table could be rolled back and forth between the kitchen and the dining area so that the servants wouldn’t have to come into the dining area, they would change all the dishes back in the kitchen. In practice this didn’t work so well. At the second dinner they hosted, the grandmother was surprised to see her first course disappear when she didn’t finish at the same time as the others. She raised quite a fuss and they went back to having servants clear each course.
One story I loved involved Mrs. Johnson #3. She realized that the home was designed for another woman so she replaced the paintings and added her own upholstered furnishings. When Wright came to visit, he was appalled to see the changes. In the middle of the night he got up and rummaged through the storage areas and replaced Mrs. Johnson #3’s art with the original and stored all her chairs, etc. At sunrise, Mrs. Johnson caught him and told him to leave at once and never return. He did and they never saw each other again.