June 8 is Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday, and it is a big day in the organic architecture community and a chance to celebrate the master architect’s life and work. It is also the birthday of organic architect Bruce Goff, who credited Wright as his mentor—a double celebration. I’m celebrating the event by sharing a little-known gem of a home in Washington designed by Wright. It is an example of Wright’s Usonian homes, intended to be moderate in cost and built by the owners. However, often they were neither moderate in cost nor easy to build. Bill and Elizabeth Tracy amazingly cast and sanded all the blocks themselves, working full time over a year. There were 11 different types of blocks, and each weighed 150 to 180 pounds. The other materials were redwood and glass.
The very private entrance approach to the home faces east. The Cherokee red concrete (a favorite color of Wright) layers, forming stairs and a terrace. To the right three more stairs rise to the home’s entrance. In the foreground is a garden wall that flows to become the wall of the garage, to the left. The blocks are all cast by the Tracys.
The front door is understated in a manner common to Mr. Wright’s work, with a protected overhang that hovers over. When you enter the homes, there’s a sense of compression and release. For me, it creates a heightened awareness so that I am prepared to fully appreciate the space inside. The small red tile is a signature tile signifying Mr. Wright’s pleasure with the execution of the home according to his design.
The living and dining areas wrap around the fireplace in an L-shaped space. Note the patterns in the cast stones of the fireplace, the concrete-block coffered ceiling, the light spilling through the perforated blocks to create the pattern on the floor, and you will see the grid that the geometry of the home follows, in this case rectangular. The built-in bookcases and peripheral bench seating are other signature designs of Wright.
To the other side of the fireplace are the glass doors and perforated block columns that offer views to the Puget Sound. Bill Tracy built the chairs.
The glass doors open on the corners with others between the glass and block columns to tie the outside in. Frank Lloyd Wright said of this design, “Now the outside may come inside and the inside may and does go outside. They are of each other.”
The Tracy Home was built in 1955. I have often wondered what Wright would have designed if he had the building materials of today, especially the insulated glass windows and disappearing doors.
This view from the wooded east side of the home shows the challenge of the building site. The east is built into the hillside with clerestory windows for natural light. The three small bedrooms are aligned against this wall. The taller brick structure rising above the plane of the roof encloses the kitchen, allowing for a height of 11 feet 6 inches. The
perforated blocks with glass bring natural light into the kitchen.
In contrast, the height of the bedrooms is just 6 feet 6 inches. The lighting beneath the bookshelves shining down on the bed for reading is a Wright innovation. Again, I think how he could have come up with really interesting applications for LED lighting.
I made these photos in the early 1990s when Bill and Elizabeth Tracy were still residing in the home. They were incredibly gracious to let me photograph their personal space. As with other original owners, I could sense their connection to the home.
It’s really a charming home, isn’t it? Happy birthday, Mr. Wright.