Auction: an Illinois house by Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright could not have found a more perfect spot than the leafy suburb of Rockford, Illinois, to stage his much under-rated Kenneth Laurent House - about to go under the hammer with Chicago-based auction house, Wright.
A single-storey structure of timber and Chicago Common Brick, the house at 4646 Spring Brook Road is set back from the quiet road behind a long driveway, on a 1.3 acre plot that’s cocooned by tall trees and shrubbery. Blending effortlessly into the setting, the house nevertheless anchors the eye in a way that reminds you of Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater.
After reading about Wright in ’House Beautiful’, Phyllis Laurent decided to ask him to build a home for her and her wheelchair bound husband, Kenneth, a World War 2 veteran with a spinal cord injury.
Completed in 1952 at a cost of $35,000, the three bedroom, two bathroom, 2,500 sq ft house has barely changed in the ensuing fifty years, the Laurents keeping everything from the built-in furniture to the furnishings more or less as they were the day they first moved in.
The severe façade gives little away, reserving its quietly triumphant a-ha moment for the rear - a gentle crescent swoop that curves around, and draws the bucolic greenery into the interior spaces, comprising warm, light-washed rooms, with exposed brickwork and original custom-made furnishings designed by Wright. The architect’s wife, Olgivanna, designed the dining table.
The Kenneth Laurent House was also the only residence Wright designed that was accessible for the handicapped. Not that you could tell. There are no ramps nor obvious rails anywhere in the house - just wide hallways, level thresholds at all entry points, commanding rooms with low set windows and a perspective that makes complete sense when viewed from a seated position.
Wright was so fond of the house that its design and innovative features - including floors heated by hidden water-pipes - eventually became the core DNA for his future work. To friends, he called it a ’serene masterpiece’ and his ’little gem’.
And now the Laurents are finally moving out, putting the house up for sale with Wright as part of its biannual Important Design auction on 15 December. The home and original furnishings - including barrel chairs, hassocks, wrought iron fireplace grills, decorative screens and wall lights - are estimated at $500,000 and $700,000.
Given the Laurents’ fidelity to the house over the years, it’s a rare opportunity to find a Frank Lloyd Wright house in such mint condition. Not surprisingly, local preservationists are scrambling to raise funds, their goal to turn the house into a museum.