Everyone Wants a Frank Lloyd Wright House to Last Forever, But Nobody Wants to Live In One

The rare privilege of living in one of Frank Lloyd Wright‘s homes is both a blessing and a curse: Despite their sheer beauty and the troves of architectural pilgrims that come just to ogle them, they’re next to impossible to sell.

Out of the 280 occupied Wright homes in the United States, CBS reports, 20 of them are for sale; half of those are in or around Chicago; nearly all of them are priced over $1 million; and almost none of them sell for the initial asking price. “We price [Wright’s designs] as art,” Laura Talaske, Better Homes and Gardens Gloor Realty agent and 1903 Prairie Style home resident, told Chicago Magazine. Unfortunately for her, “they sell as houses.”

Given the near-religious fanaticism of Wright followers, one would assume scores of buyers would treat these architectural gems as prized collectors’ items, but the truth is that most just want to take a look inside. Although George Madison Millard House resident Claire Montenegro says that, “It is a house to be lived in. It is not a museum,” evidence would suggest the contrary. Wright house residents play host to uninvited guests who come knocking in hopes of being given a tour and bear the burden of keeping the house exactly as Wright had intended, lest they incur the wrath of overzealous preservationists. Wright homes change hands as-is, tiny kitchens, narrow doorways, limiting built-in furniture, and all. The man didn’t believe in wasting space, and so many lack an attic or a basement. Plus, as a consequence of experimental construction, they leak.

“It needs a special person who will have the energy, the resources” to take care of these homes, McArthur House one-time resident and current real estate agent Louisa McPharlin told CBS, who by resources meant “$300,000 to a $1 million in renovations.”

There’s an obvious, inherent flaw in trying to preserve a now-deceased man’s singular vision of how a family should live; there are very few who are willing to pay to abide by the living conditions circumscribed by a man who died 50 years ago. Inevitably, the general population — meaning those who don’t regularly read and/or write architecture blogs — understand these problems as those of privilege. According to CBS commenter bozenscc:

    “It’s hard to sell because most normal people don’t have 1 million plus to drop on a house because they’re too worried about paying for:

    etc etc

    People who spend this much time and money on their houses have never had to face the real world most people live in.
    Terrible story CBS, learn to connect with your audience.
    It’s certainly not by covering houses for sale in the 1 million plus bracket.”

Commenter schapkj309 offers different reasons: “Most of them are butt-ugly, overpriced and in bad locations.” Truly, who among these quoted sounds the most ignorant? [CBS, Chicago Magazine]

— Janelle Zara

Image by Rick Talaske via Chicago Magazine