The majesty of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater (photos)
Road Trip 2010: CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman went deep into the Pennsylvania woods to see what may be the best house in the U.S.
MILL RUN, Pa.--Some have called it the best private home in America. Countless others have at least gushed over it. And whether you've been there or not, there's no denying the beauty and aesthetic power of Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Fallingwater here.
As part of Road Trip 2010, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman visited Fallingwater for the first time and was inspired and deeply impressed by what he saw.
Completed in 1937, Fallingwater was the vacation home of the Kaufmann family from Pittsburgh, about 63 miles away. The incredible house stayed in the family until after the father, Edgar Sr., and his wife Lilliane had both passed away. In 1963, son Edgar Jr. entrusted the house to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and in 1965 it became a museum.
The Kaufmanns, who owned the Kaufmann department store in Pittsburgh, had originally rented the property, formerly the site of a country club, and used it as a retreat for employees of his store. They then purchased it and set about looking to build their vacation home.
The main house came first, followed by the guest house, which is located just above, in 1938. Between the two buildings, there are 169 original pieces of furniture designed by Wright, one of the largest collections of the famous architect's furniture anywhere on Earth.
This is the classic view of Fallingwater, taken from below the main house and looking back at it through an opening in the trees. Though the picture was taken in the summer, there are many photos taken from this spot that show Fallingwater in the winter, with all surfaces covered in snow, and the famous waterfall frozen in place.
This is Fallingwater's Grand Room: a large, open space in the main house that has no load-bearing walls. Much of the furniture in the room was designed by Wright, and the space was designed for the hosting of parties, many of which took place here.
A table in Fallingwater's Grand Room. A portrait of Edgar Kaufmann Sr. hangs on the wall above the table. The walls are made from Pottsville sandstone, and the floors are polished with liquid Johnson Wax.
One of the striking features of the Grand Room is this large kettle, which hangs next to the room's fireplace. Large enough to heat a significant amount of water, the kettle was designed to swing into the fireplace itself for heating. The kettle is painted the signature Cherokee Red that was used on much of the metal in the house.
Although Edgar Kaufmann Sr. didn't understand it at first, Wright insisted on including this hatch in the Grand Room as a way of allowing for natural air conditioning. The hatch pulls open, revealing the famous river that runs underneath Fallingwater. Because of the cool air coming off the river, opening the hatch let cool air come up into the room, cooling it and much of the rest of the house. This system was an example of Wright's frequent use of organic elements in his architecture. As well, when the hatch was opened, the resulting view of the river brought nature right into the house, another Wright signature.
This is the only kitchen at Fallingwater and was used by the Kaufmann family, as well as the servants and visitors staying in the guest bedrooms or guest house. The kitchen was completed in 1936 and included St. Charles metal cabinets. Wright designed in a radiator underneath the cabinets that heated the home. The kitchen's appliances were upgraded in the 1950s.
A view of the full Grand Room, showing most of its windows and two of its seating areas. From this view, it is easy to see how Wright used the idea of open architecture and many windows to let in the maximum view of the natural space outside.
This is the hallway that leads toward the main house's master bedroom. Wright liked designing long, dark passageways because they appeared to be akin to tunnels into open space. As well, by creating a hallway like this, Wright's design made it clear to visitors where the family's space was and that they should not head in that direction without invitation.
This is a view of Fallingwater's master bedroom. This room featured an example of another of Wright's signature designs, the folded ceiling. This was meant to draw anyone in the room to the outside space, in keeping with Wright's love of light and nature.
These are the corner windows in Edward Kaufmann Sr.'s study. The study was the vertical core of the house. Wright designed these windows--which when opened offered no structural support, as a way of bringing the natural sound of the stream into the house.
A view of two of Fallingwater's main terraces from the third level of the house. Each of the building's terraces is cantilevered over the stream and waterfall below. Wright thought of that design as akin to a diving board. The counterbalance was the house's north wall, which kept the building from falling over. Fallingwater underwent major repairs in 2002 to deal with sagging of the terraces and other parts of the building. It is not entirely understood if the sagging is due to flaws in Wright's dedication to the cantilever principle, or if the addition of several major steel beams in the terraces at the behest of engineers hired by Kaufmann without Wright's assent eventually caused the sagging.
Originally, the guest house featured four carports on its ground floor. Today, however, the building is used by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which has offices throughout. In addition, three of the carports have been blocked off and the resulting space behind has been turned into this theater.
A side view of the main Fallingwater house that shows both the load-bearing north wall (right) and the many cantilevered terraces on the left. The picture also demonstrates how the house was built right into the forest in a bid to allow the building's residents to live as if they were in nature.