ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. (KSDK) - "No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other."
These words, from architect Frank Lloyd Wright's autobiography, provide a frame with which to appreciate the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park, tucked away on 10.5 acres in Kirkwood, Missouri.
Wright, America's premiere architect of the 20th century, is credited with the design of more than a thousand buildings, 532 of which were completed. He cultivated the philosophy of "organic architecture" by drawing plans for homes and buildings that would utilize natural materials and thus exist in harmony with their surroundings.
After years of designed Prairie-style American homes in the Midwest, Wright developed the Usonian style, a unique style of home building intended to accommodate middle-income Americans with good design at modest costs. These Usonian homes were generally small (no basement or attic) and based on one geometric form.
In his later years, Wright was contacted by a St. Louis couple, Russell and Ruth Kraus, who expressed great interest in living in a Wright-designed dwelling. After not receiving an answer to his letter, Russell Kraus initially assumed Wright was not interested. However, the great architect eventually responded and promised the Krauses they would have their home.
The 1,900-square-foot Kraus home took four years to build (1951-1955) and was made primarily out of brick and tidewater red cypress. Unfortunately, this type of cypress, popular for its natural resistance to rot and termites, was not readily available at the time construction started, leading to delays. Even after the home was built, the Krauses continued working on interior projects to meet Wright's specifications, including furniture and other furnishings.
Frank Lloyd Wright died in 1959 at the age of 91. He never saw the completed Kraus home.
The Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park is the only Usonian home with stained glass doors, which were designed and built on-site by Russell Kraus, a stained glass artist.
The Kraus home is based on one main geometric shape: the parallelogram. Only two natural right-angles exist in the home, each in separate bathrooms. Wright homes are typically constructed on a slab with no basement or attic included in the plans. But because their home rests atop a natural well, the Krauses had a small basement installed during construction to provide water for the residence.
Wright did not like garages, opting to design carports to maintain an openness across the entire property. He also had an aversion to gutters, believing they distracted from the horizontal lines of a home. This feature would prove devastating in later years, as rainwater would run from the roof, splashing on the walls or ground, and become trapped in the doors or bricks.
Once inside the home, guests of the Frank Lloyd Wright House are confined to a small entry space, consisting of a low ceiling and narrow hall space. The architectural concept of "compression and release" is not unique to Wright; designers and developers would utilize this feature to instill an immediate sense of security of protection to homeowners before opening up elsewhere in the home.
The residence opens up to a large living room—a common feature of Wright homes—with glass doors opening to an elevated back patio. The parallelogram can be seen everywhere, from the slab-panel floor, to the furniture and lamp fixtures, which also highlight triangle and hexagon shapes.
Other common Wright design trends in the Kraus home include: a small kitchen space, skylights to maximize natural lighting, piano hinges on closet doors, and the use of Cherokee red paint.
Ruth Kraus passed away in 1992, but Russell continued to live in the home until January 2001, when he sold the house, furnishings, memorabilia, and grounds to the non-profit group Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park. The group raised $1.7 million to purchase the home over an eight-year period via private donations from individuals, foundations, and corporations. The home, which had fallen into disrepair, was restored through a grant from the Gateway Foundation and converted into a house museum.
After purchasing the home, the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park group donated everything to St. Louis County for the purposes of creating a park. The county then leased the property and all items back to the non-profit for management and restoration for the next 50 years. The non-profit will be able to renew the lease for three additional 50-year terms.
Restoration has been ongoing since the purchase of the home. John Eifler, a Chicago-based architect specializing in Frank Lloyd Wright restorations, has supervised all refurbishment.
Due to poor drainage on the property, an outer retaining wall had to be torn down and rebuilt. The main support wall leading to the back patio had buckled and also needed replacing. Contractors used as much of the original brick as they could in rebuilding both walls. The original bricks were fabricated in Alton, Illinois; the new bricks had to be made in Sioux City, Iowa. New drainage improvements were added to prevent future structural failures.
The home became listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
A benefit party to raise money for the proposed visitor's center will take place next month, featuring acclaimed local musician Pokey LaFarge. The event, Midwestern Originals, is being held on June 8, Frank Lloyd Wright's 147th birthday, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the grounds of Ebsworth Park.
Guests will be able to tour the Kraus home and view a special exhibit inside, featuring woodcuts, lithographs, and paintings by Midwestern artists.
Reservations can be made by calling 314-822-8359 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Individual tickets to the party are $125.
Additional information on the upcoming benefit, the property, or Frank Lloyd Wright can be found at EbsworthPark.org.