Friday, October 16, 2009


Last weekend I toured Fallingwater, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright designed country house for Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr while in Western Pennsylvania. This is the famous view as seen from across the waterfall. I hadn't visited in a few years and was hit again by how modern this house really is: hard to believe it was designed in 1934. Edgar Kaufmann Jr. was studying with Frank LLoyd Wright (a low point of FLW's career where he taught to make ends meet) and convinced his parents to hire him to build a country house on their land in Bear Run, PA. The highlight of the land was a beautiful waterfall and Wright ingeniously recommended building ON the falls rather than facing them (the common approach). The Kaufmann's would escape here with friends or alone for years: lots of parties and drama, trust me! The commission revived Frank Lloyd Wright's career, even making the cover of Time magazine shortly after it was completed. Not bad for a private country house!
The living room connects you to the outside in many ways. You can hear the falls situated right right underneath, as seen below. The natural stone walls and flooring also connect you to the site as do the large open expanses of windows.
Numerous seating areas in this large entertaining space make for a great party room. The house is much smaller than you would think, about 2,500 sf, and this is the only public space. A very modern idea which many of us have in our own homes, one room for living room, den & dining room.
The Kaufmann's must have really kept Tiffany's in business. The house is littered with beautiful objects such as these bowls on the low tables in the sitting area.Unfortunately, an overly zealous maid had attacked them with a brillo pad, scrubbing the gilding off!
The falls are connected to the living room directly with a set of stairs which take you down to the stream right before the waterfall. The windows telescope back allowing access.One of the nicest features is that the house is set up as if the Kaufmann's might walk in at any moment with many personal items and fresh flowers in every room. As air conditioning was rare in 1934, cross ventilation was extremely important, even in the mountains of Pennsylvania. In the guest room on the 2nd floor, these small windows are located above the bed along with a large wall of glass facing south.Even Mrs. Kaufmann's bathroom is set up as if in use: much of this beautiful glass is from lalique. Extraordinary! Love the planters screening the bathroom from the master bedroom's terrace.More Tiffany pieces on Mrs. Kaufmann's dressing table.The lamp seen here on Mr. Kaufmann's nightstand is located throughout the house and was designed by FLW for the house. They're available for purchase in the giftshop: I was so tempted!!Mr. Kaufmann's desk in his bedroom (yes, seperate his and her bedrooms) had fresh flowers and a Tiffany inkwell: the most important thing to note is the notch in the desk to allow the window to open bringing in the sound of the falls.One of the most noted features of the home are the linen shelves with reeding to allow air to circulate: I wish I had this at home!Mrs. Kaufmann sadly committed suicide here at the house but her memory lives on. Besides being buried here with her husband, this photo of her with fresh flowers lies in her son's 3rd floor bedroom.My favorite part of the house is probably the ascent to the guest house, built a few years after the house which contains additional guest & servant quarters along with a carport.
The path of stairs is covered with this cantilevered roof which is really breathtaking: A true structural feat!The guest sitting room is really comfortable and as beautiful as the main house. One bonus feature is the taller ceiling! Additional guests could sleep on the built in sofa along the window wall as well as in the guest bedroom next door which housed many famous luminaries of the day, including Einstein.

Edgar Kaufmann, Jr realized the importance of this house and donated it to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in October, 1963 after his parents deaths. He remained an active supporter of the museum till his death when his ashes were strewn over the grounds, near his parents.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Versailles: Hall of Mirrors

Were you wondering when I would get to the good stuff from Versailles? I think I've kept you waiting long enough! The most famous room at Versailles is undoubtedly the Hall of Mirrors. I've enabled clicking on my photos so you can zoom into the details.
I wasn't sure what to expect. I've seen photographs of it my entire life but I was totally blown away.Blown away not just by the sumptuousness of every detail: the gilding, the beautiful mirror, the huge crowds, but mainly by the beautiful light.The room is immensely long, 239.5' to be exact, and that doesn't include the adjoining Salon of War and the Salon of Peace on either end.
The light comes from the tall french doors facing the gardens and is reflected into the 17 mirror clad archways opposite. All of the crystal, highly polished marble and gilding don't hurt either!
At the time of the halls construction in 1678, mirrors were one of the most expensive items to own. Meant as a gathering place at the palace, the mirrors were not just a decorative item but also meant to impress all those waiting for a glimpse of the king.
I was impressed.
As you can see, so was everyone else! Everyone was jockeying for elbow room to take pictures!
The hall was designed by the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart for Louis XIV; would you expect anything less from either man?
Beautiful candelabras and statues line the hallway, reflected ten fold by the mirror.
The views over the gardens are spectacular: I could have spent all day long in this one room.
I kept pinching myself: am I really here?
Towards the end of my visit in this great room, I started to pay closer attention to the mirror.
Does it look ok to you? Hazy maybe?
Not just old, but there is GRAFFITI on the mirror! At first I was outraged!!!
Then I started to read what was scratched onto the glass. Most of the inscriptions left behind are from 100-200 years ago. Historical graffiti!
Somehow that made it much more acceptable to me, is that wrong? This last image has been the screensaver on my home computer since I came back. History refleccts history!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The first Frick

This past weekend in Pennsylvania, I was happy to show some of my friends around one of my favorite places from childhood, Clayton House: the original Frick mansion in Pittsburgh.
The grounds house a really fine art museum, amazing antique car & carriage museum (recently renovated), an orchid filled conservatory, a playhouse turned giftshop (complete with bowling alley), a delicious cafe and wonderful grounds, not to mention a beautiful victorian home.Many things on the property bare the name Clayton. The name is derived from Henry CLAY Frick: The 'ton' relates to the word town.Part of the carriagehouse.The playhouse was built for the children and is the size of a normal house. It held rooms for the children's toys as well as a bowling alley! Lucky kids! It now holds the giftshop: this is where you will start your tour.The conservatory lies next door.Across the walkway is an old caretakers cottage which now houses a pretty great restaurant. We didn't get a chance to eat here but I highly recommend it based on past experiences.
This stone house is now part of the property but wasn't owned by the Fricks till after Helen's Death in the 1980s when it was bought by the foundation for the administration offices. The main house was renovated after the Frick's purchase of a typical Victorian which they renovated into a gracious family home. The only original piece left was the porte cochere seen here below an amazing stained glass & copper bay.A closeup of the port cochere columns.A shot of the backdoor to end the tour. If you find yourself in Pittsburgh, don't forget to visit, the interiors are spectacular!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Western PA

Three house tours in three days. This past weekend I spent 'camping' with some friends in Western Pennsylvania on the grounds of Fallingwater.
We also visited nearby Kentuck Knob, another Frank Lloyd Wright house, which was totally amazing! Seen here is Cucumber Falls, a really charming waterfall near the two houses.Having roots from the area may bias me, but I think Western Pennsylvania in the fall is the most beautiful place on earth. Above, a charming church in Ohiopyle.
We spent another day exploring my hometown, Pittsburgh: The original Frick mansion, Clayton house and my old stomping grounds while in college.The field behind our house was a meadow filled with wildflowers and views over the surrounding hills. Each night we had these amazing sunsets which I tried to capture here in photographs to no avail.I say 'cabin' loosely, it was actually a house from the 1960s which used to belong to the lawyers of the Kaufmann Family.
Look forward to some posts on these amazing places in the upcoming weeks!