Winslow…and Charnley

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

“The Winslow House had burst on the view of that provincial suburb like the Primavera in full bloom. It was a new world to Oak Park and River Forest. That house became an attraction, far and near. Incessantly it was courted and admired. Ridiculed, too, of course. Ridicule is always modeled on the opposite side of that shield. The first house soon began to sift the sheep from the goats in this fashion.” – From Frank Lloyd Wright’s “An Autobiography,” P. 152 of the 1977 Horizon Press edition.

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I opened the 1963 Horizon Press edition of the Frank Lloyd Wright Wasmuth Portfolio which my dear friend Gene Szymczak (steward of the Hardy House) gave me a few months before he died, when I began writing this piece. The first three of the 100 plates are the landmark house he designed for William Winslow (1893, River Forest, Illinois, T.9305):

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What were you doing when you were 26 years old? As for Frank Lloyd Wright, well, he “shook out of his sleeve” a landmark house.* The Winslow House was not his first commission, but it was the first one he could proclaim as his. He had quit or been dismissed from Adler & Sullivan, and no longer had to hide behind Cecil Corwin’s name or Adler & Sullivan’s names (the latter, as in the case of the James Charnley House – Chicago, 1891, T.9101). I was given the privilege of photographing the house two weeks ago by its stewards who I am not naming, to protect their privacy.

This post was originally going to be solely dedicated to my recent Winslow House photos, but it evolved as I thought about Tim Samuelson’s “Wright Before the Lloyd” exhibition at the Elmhurst Art Museum. The exhibition includes a large photograph of the front of the Charnley House. I knew I would be photographing Winslow soon when I saw the exhibition. When I looked at the photo below, I thought that the entrance to Charnley was a bit like what Wright would design for Winslow two years later. Looking at the square windows on the third floor of Charnley also made me think of the windows that flank the front door of Winslow.

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As I looked at my 2014 photos of Charnley this evening, I saw enough to make me think that some of Charnley’s details seem to lay the groundwork for some of Winslow details. Since I started exploring this thesis and emailing scholars, they have affirmed my notion that in some respects Charnley can indeed be considered a rough draft of what Wright would do for his first client after he hung out his architect’s shingle.

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And, the front doors, both highly oranmented (although Winslow is not as stylized as the more narrow Charnley door):

Charnley:

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Winslow:

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And what about the arches that flank the inglenook and fireplaces that warm us after entering each house? In each house the left arch precedes a staircase. First, Charnley, then Winslow (Winslow is undergoing interior restoration which is why some wall surfaces are unfinished):

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Arched passageways, first in Charnley, then in Winslow:

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Unlike Winslow, Charnley has an atrium, but both have wood screens on their staircases:

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Winslow:

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After those comparisons of Charnley and Winslow, I return to the original theme of this post, a photo gallery of my new Winslow photos:

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Back inside the house, we start at the inglenook again:

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Winslow House 10.28.20 063.jpgThis original thermometer (Winslow was a metal fabricator) still works:

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I am not showing many interior spaces, to respect the stewards’ privacy:

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One of my favorite features of the house is the octagonal staircase in the stair tower:

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Allow me one more comparison, to the ceiling in the drafting room at the Home and Studio (Oake Park, 1897, T.9506)…both are octagonal:

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The stable, first viewed through the dining room bay windows and through the windows on the rear stair tower:

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The stable, framed by the porte-cochère:

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I photographed the fireplace in Unity House (at Unity Temple) a few weeks ago. Heidi Ruehle told me that there supposed to be a mural around the fireplace. Unadorned, it made me think of the entry to the Winslow House where I would be taking pictures that afternoon:

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“When I first laid eyes on the Winslow House from the street (as a 22-year-old architecture student), I felt like I was in a church, the presence viewed from the street was so powerful. I don’t think I have ever seen a Wright building that impacted me in that manner. It was a powerful experience.” – Randolph C. Henning, architect and Frank Lloyd Wright author and scholar, in an interview with the author, November 10, 2020.

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*There are numerous references in the Wright literature to him “shaking” designs “out of his sleeve.”

Web Links:

The stewards of the Winslow House sent me this link to a comparison between Charnley and Winslow after I wrote them that my essay was turning in that direction:

http://chicagopatterns.com/louis-sullivan-frank-lloyd-wright-charnley-house-part-3/

“Wright Before the Lloyd” Exhibition at the Elmhurst, Illinois, Art Museum:

https://www.elmhurstartmuseum.org/exhibitions/wright-before-lloyd/

The Winslow House

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2016)

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Winslow House in River Forest (1893-94) was the architect’s first independent commission after he left or was fired by Adler and Sullivan. Wright was only 26 years old when he designed the house, but it is one of his masterpieces.

LR Winslow House 001.jpgThere are elements of Louis Sullivan-inspired ornamentation combined with the beginnings of what became Wright’s Prairie-style work. William Winslow is said to have taken so much ridicule about its unusual design from acquaintances that he changed the route of his normal commute to work. I had the great pleasure and privilege of being allowed to photograph the house yesterday. The house is empty, pending finalization of its sale by the Walker family who have been its steward for 60 years. I will concentrate on my photographic impressions of the house, below, and challenge you to your own adventure of discovery as you research different critical analyses of the house and the genius of its design, rather than present my own architectural critique here.

Unlike many of Wright’s later homes, although there is a door at the porte-cochere, there is also a prominent front door facing the street:

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The inglenook, which one encounters immediately across from the front door is one of the signature features of the house. Wright stresses the importance of the hearth by slightly elevating the inglenook to a separate level from the entry way:

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The arches, which are echoed in many of the doorways on the first floor, show Sullivan’s influence at the top of the arch, and Wright’s nascent vocabulary at their bottom:

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Although Wright sometimes used commercial designs in the next few years, he designed windows at the Winslow House, including the dining room windows, top, and living room, below:

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The passageway between the dining room and living room is arched dramatically:

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Another famous feature of the house is the octagonal stair tower on the rear of the house. It is a geometric counterpoint to the flat plane of the front of the house and the curved dining room bay windows:

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The real visual delight, though, is in looking at the design from above and below on the stairs themselves:

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The stable was added at the rear of the property in 1897:

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Unfortunately, the original gate across the front of the stable – later a garage with a turntable because many early cars did not have a reverse gear – is gone. Wright did not build even a simple base for the columns that flank the middle of the stable:

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I leave you with Wright’s designs flanking the front door:LR Winslow House 033.jpg