Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vacation, Part III

I’ve had some difficulty composing my thoughts about this place because it has me spellbound. Do I talk about the family who commissioned it, or the famous architect who designed it? Honestly, with Fallingwater, one can’t see where one starts and the other begins. The Kaufmanns were close friends with Frank Lloyd Wright; they could live with Wright’s famous restrictions, but Wright gave them greater leverage because they understood his aesthetic. It was a symbiotic relationship, mostly.

The Kaufmanns (if you are unfamiliar) owned a department store that, in its height comprised 59 stores in 5 states, and was bought by Macy’s a few years ago. They had a home in Pittsburgh, and a few other vacation homes sprinkled throughout the country, but Fallingwater is by far their most famous – and for good reason.

My first glimpse of the house was the legendary one from downstream of the waterfall. Pictures simply can’t do it justice. Even by today’s standards, it is a forward-thinking, magnificent home. The house exists in perfect harmony with its natural surroundings, which became Wright’s trademark in residential design. Throughout the house, you can hear the waterfall. The elements of design; wood, stone, steel, and glass, and natural, colorful textiles are constant reminders of the purpose of the home. To relax and connect with nature.

I entered the house through the kitchen, about half the size of my own which, I might add, is considered small by today’s standards. Designed with the most current appliances in 1934, it seems humble and purely functional. As I made my way through the various spaces, I was moved by how each room was intimate, rather than an ostentatious display of wealth. While the house is made up of more than 3,000 square feet, about half of it is the terraces themselves, so interior rooms are smaller than one might think. In the great room, with light pouring in from the tall windows onto the long couches, you could kick off your shoes and flop down right there. As I moved through one rambling space to another, I could see the bookshelves loaded with books. Everything stands exactly as the family left it when they donated it to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963, so it feels utterly lived in. None of the rooms have that precious quality where you are afraid to breathe, in spite of the Tiffany and Picassos. This was a house where a famous and wealthy family felt they could be completely themselves. I should like to hear a better definition of home.

Fallingwater has restrictions for the use of photography taken on the premises. I debated and struggled about how I might share my moving experience of such a magnificent space, and respect their wishes at the same time. With ample proof of utter disregard all over the internet, I thought I might at least give a glimpse. I have posted a few photos on my photostream here, which I will remove in one week. Until then, enjoy!

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