Shane Ferro
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OBJECT LESSONS: Architecture & Design News

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

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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:

    groceries
    children
    bills
    gas
    insurance
    college
    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

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Comments

  1. REALITY CHECK : “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, but unfortunately for her, “they sell as houses.”

    OH SNAP!!!

  2. Laura’s daughter helped perform my cardiac bypass in January. Her Daughter bonded with me as a patient because she recognized my Taliesin hat and we discussed the house she grew up in. It is difficult. Frank Lloyd Wright houses ARE pieces of art, BUT the people who love them and will not rip them down to build something bigger are few and far between. Its a difficult dance to find someone who has the money to buy a Wright house ever=n as mere real estate and then maintain it and not change it and ruin it.

  3. by Laura Talaske

    Based on the comments within the article, and after, these homes become difficult to sell as the negativity and hearsay becomes reality due to uninformed bloggers who disparage and perpetuate rare instances. Owners of these homes need to deal with the same reality of mortgages, tuition, diapers, retirement, etc. that everyone else does and more, including negative commenting about lifestyle choices. FLW homes are wonderful family homes, inspirational, comfortable, and for many, in the center of exciting residential areas. Move beyond the box colonial and open your minds!

  4. Hi Ms. Talaske,

    I chose to quote you in particular because you make an interesting point, that visual art is typically held at a higher value than functional art, as FLW’s houses certainly qualify. What I really wanted to point out in this blog post is that everything is in the eye of the beholder. While art collectors will shell out well over a million dollars for a painting, a few articles (by CBS, WSJ, and Chicago mag) note the unique circumstances that differentiate FLW houses as collectors items. And I did think it was fair to note the online reaction from the opposite side of the spectrum, as this one in particular borders on outrage.

    Thank you for your comment. I don’t dispute that your house is a treasure.

    Janelle Zara

    PS: Feel free to send any other comments or concerns to jzara@artinfo.com

  5. Mr. Lamb, you totally get it.

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