What’s the saying about people never visiting things in your hometown?
I’m as guilty as the next guy, but as a huge architectural buff, I’m ashamed to admit that I hadn’t visited the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, Fallingwater. Granted, it’s not in my hometown, but it’s less than a three-hour drive from Cleveland, and only about an hour from Pittsburgh.
Fallingwater is perhaps the most famous house Wright constructed. It was built in a park-like setting for the Kaufmann family (of department store fame) who lived in Pittsburgh.
They were enamored with the stream called Bear Run that ran through their property, not to mention its waterfall. While they asked Wright to build the home near the waterfall, he took the idea to the next level and built it out over the cascade.
What’s magical about Fallingwater is that it seems to float — horizontal terraces are only supported on one side, so they cantilever out. Wright used steel reinforced concrete, sandstone and lots of glass in the construction.
Two years after the house was finished, the Kaufmann’s asked for an addition, and a guest house was constructed higher up the hill from the main residence. Mrs. Kaufmann was said to prefer staying there.
The waterfall itself can’t be seen from inside the house, but you can feel its presence and hear the water rushing by from different points. Wright pioneered and perfected the open floor plan concept, and it’s on full display here. He was also keen to include built-in furnishings when his customers allowed him. One of the largest collections of Wright’s furnishings is here at Fallingwater.
Built in 1935-1937, the Kaufmann’s budgeted $25,000 and ended up spending $155,000, a great deal of money in those days. The guest house was added in 1937. The house requires constant maintenance, and the flat roofs are definitely a challenge — Wright’s houses are often leaky as a result of this design style. The home opened for tours in 1963.
Our guide was wonderful — interweaving facts about the structure, architecture in general, and the family’s lives. Children’s tours are also offered, but only during the main tourist season; check ahead for times and dates. Another popular option is the twilight tour, where paths leading to the house are lit by candle, making the grounds look like something out of a fairy tale.
Regular tours are conducted from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily except Wednesdays and are $30 for adults and $18 for youths ages 6-12. More in-depth tours are also offered for $80 at 8:30 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. daily except Wednesdays. These include access to some secondary spaces that aren’t available on the standard tour. Regular tours are one hour in length while the in-depth tours last two hours.
Fallingwater is set in an area of southwestern Pennsylvania called the Laurel Highlands. This area is certainly worth a long weekend visit in the Autumn, with gorgeous scenery around every bend.
There are plenty of outdoor activities, as well as charming towns and delightful restaurants. Top it off with a stay at the impressive Nemacolin Woodlands Resort while the leaves are at their most colorful and you’ve got a perfect romantic getaway.
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