Laurent House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Little Gem: Rockford, Illinois

Laurent House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Little Gem: Rockford, Illinois

Front of houseFrank Lloyd Wright referred to it as his “little gem,” the small house in Rockford he designed for Ken and Phyllis Laurent, the only house he designed for a person with a disability. The house, completely rehabbed by the Laurent House Foundation, opened to the public for tours in 2014. Jerry Heinzeroth, Foundation President, was kind enough to meet Skip and me at the Laurent House this summer for a tour of the home and to share the home’s history with us.

Shortly after Ken and Phyllis Laurent married in 1941, World War II broke out, and Ken enlisted in the Navy. During a tour of duty, Ken was experiencing painful problems with his back. He underwent surgery for a tumor on his spine, the surgery went awry, and Ken ended up a paraplegic, paralyzed from the waist down.

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While Ken was recuperating at Chicago’s Hines VA Hospital, Phyllis read an article in House Beautiful about the Pope House in Falls Church, Virginia, a Usonian house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. “Usonian” is the term given to the style of homes Wright designed for middle-income families. The term means “United States of North America.” Impressed with the design of the home, Phyllis shared the article with Ken, who wrote to Wright asking him to design a home that would accommodate his disability and at a price of no more than $20,000. At the time, Ken had no idea of Wright’s notoriety.

At 82 years of age, Wight took on the assignment. However, it was two years before the design was complete. Having thought it all out in his head, Wright put it on paper within two hours. A year later, in 1952, the house was completed, with much of the millwork done by local craftsmen. In 1960 an addition was put on the house, also Wright designed, that included a carport and dining room.

Laurent House living areaThe house looks rather plain from the outside, but there’s no mistaken the Frank Lloyd Wright design, with its clean horizontal lines. As I entered the house, though, my jaw dropped. The open floor plan makes the house looks much larger than it looks from the outside. The design follows a solar hemicycle; if you look from one end of the house, you can see how the arcs continue to the other end.

The 60-foot window wall at the back of the house is the longest in any Frank Lloyd Wright home. The window overlooks the patio that conforms to the same curves as the interior of the home.

Window WallPatio

To meet the budget needs of the homeowners, inexpensive but sturdy materials were used, like the Cherokee red concrete floor, coated with wax. Bug and disease resistant red tidewater cypress wood was used throughout the house. Chicago common brick was used on the home’s exterior.

The home was built with Ken’s eye level in mind as he was seated in his wheelchair, so everything sits a little lower, including the furniture, all original to the home and designed by Wright. In fact, the Laurent House includes the largest Frank Lloyd Wright collection in a single property.

Wright owned a large collection of Japanese block prints. When he designed the windows in the master bedroom, he said it was like giving the Laurents three Japanese prints that would change with every season.

Bedroom windows

Every aspect of the home was built to accommodate Ken’s accessibility, including a bathroom large enough to turn the wheelchair as needed and a desk for the office corner of the bedroom. The dining room table only had seven chairs, leaving a space for the wheelchair.

Master BedroomAbout $400,000 went into the restoration of the home, including restoring the woodwork and rewiring all of the electrical. The ceiling that was badly damaged by rain was completely redone and now includes a supplemental heating system should the original radiant heat that runs through iron pipe beneath the concrete floor ever go out.

Many of the Laurents’ personal effects were left in Wright’s little gem, including a 108-year-old Schumann piano, made in Rockford. Like most Wright homes, nothing ever hung on the walls, as the walls were art in themselves.

Schumann pianoThe Laurent House is open for tours the first and last weekends (Saturday and Sunday) of every month, by reservation. Because there is no available parking on the property, tours begin at Midway Village, 6799 Guilford Road in Rockford, where you will board a shuttle bus and be brought to the Laurent House. Admission is $15 and best suited for children over eight years old. To make reservations or to learn more about the Laurent House, please visit the web site.

Disclosure: Our visit to the Laurent House was hosted by the Rockford Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Laurent House Foundation. However, opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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Historic Park Inn: Last Remaining Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel

Historic Park Inn: Last Remaining Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel

Clean horizontal lines, extensive use of art glass, entry doors recessed into the building front. I knew I had reached my destination without even seeing the name of the Historic Park Inn on the hotel. It was obviously Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School architecture, the last remaining hotel designed by the renowned architect. The Historic Park Inn was my home for my three night stay in Mason City, Iowa.

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Frank Lloyd Wright Dana-Thomas House, Springfield IL: 12,000 Square Feet of Phenomenal

Frank Lloyd Wright Dana-Thomas House, Springfield IL: 12,000 Square Feet of Phenomenal

The year was 1902.  Susan Dana had inherited $3 million and wanted to renovate the Renaissance Italianate home she grew up in.  She heard of an up-and-coming architect named Frank Lloyd Wright and hired him to “renovate” the house.  What she ended up with two years later was one room left from the original structure within 12,000 square feet of a brand new Frank Lloyd Wright prairie style home, a home with elements unheard of at the time, a home that everyone wanted to be entertained in.  Today the home is owned by the State of Illinois, open to the public for tours, and guests are still awestruck by the architectural genius of this mansion.

Wright’s signature traits are all over the house:  horizontal lines; a lot of open space and windows, inviting nature into the home and the home into nature; and art glass everywhere—in doors, windows, light fixtures, even in ceiling panels.  The one Wright trait that is missing is an entry door hidden from plain view.  Susan Dana loved to entertain, and she insisted on a grand entrance for guests.  And grand it is.


As you walk through the home, from one area to another, you’ll feel the various moods that Wright meant to evoke.  A low ceiling on one side of a room creates a comfortable alcove.  Move over a few feet, to where the ceiling is much higher, and you’ll feel the space open, a perfect party space.  A long dining table, when expanded to its full length could seat up to 40.  A little beyond, a small table in a nook could be curtained off for an intimate family meal.

Landings between levels become balconies, perfect spots from which musicians could entertain.  It seems everywhere you turn there are more architectural surprises, including three barrel vaulted ceilings and an extensive use of butterflies, a favorite of Ms. Dana.  The butterflies aren’t obvious, but you can detect them in some of the art glass and in the shape of the lamps.  Surprises even extend to the lower-level library, where Ms. Dana often entertained children on Saturday mornings.  A guest touring the home once said that as a child he had his first ice cream cone here and pointed out the spot of a secret cooler that kept the ice cream cold.  The lower level includes a duck pin bowling lane and a billiards room, too.

No photographs are allowed to be taken inside, so you’ll have to take the tour yourself to see the house, the Wright-designed furniture and original sculptures.  No doubt, you’ll be awestruck, too, as you walk through the Dana-Thomas House’s 12,000 square feet of phenomenal.

The Dana-Thomas House is located at 301 E. Lawrence Avenue in Springfield, Illinois.  Tours are conducted Wednesdays through Sundays.  Visit the web site for further details.

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Fabyan Forest Preserve: Frank Lloyd Wright, Japanese Garden, Windmill

Fabyan Forest Preserve: Frank Lloyd Wright, Japanese Garden, Windmill

We normally associate forest preserves with nature, hiking and maybe fishing.  The Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva, Illinois, along the Fox River, has all of that.  But it is also home to a Frank Lloyd Wright renovated villa, a Japanese garden and an 1800s windmill.  The Fabyan estate, Riverbank, was once home to Colonel George Fabyan, a textiles heir, and his wife Nelle. The estate was sold to the Forest Preserve District of Kane County in 1937, after the couple passed on. Today you can tour the home, garden and windmill, which have all been restored to their original condition.

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