I was not prepared. I don’t know why. I’d read the novel Loving Frank. I’d read a biography on Frank Lloyd Wright. I’d seen many a photo of Fallingwater, the house the famous architect had built in western Pennsylvania in the 1930s as a summer home for the Kaufmann family, owners of a Pittsburgh department store.
And standing on the outside, waiting with my tour group for our leader to arrive and looking at the cantilevered concrete balconies jutting out over the waterfall below, I thought, “OK, I get it. It’s cool.”
But then we went inside. There was no grand entrance, and I expected this, knowing Wright’s architectural philosophy. I knew we would enter a very low-ceilinged space so that when we got into the main living area, we’d go from compression to release. But what I didn’t expect was how I’d feel.
I’ve seen loads of gorgeous homes and spectacular examples of architecture before, but something happened to me in my first look inside Fallingwater. My skin tingled. It’s possible I gasped. I felt disoriented.
And as I tried to figure out why I was feeling like this — I mean, there were Brady Bunch colors and the space wasn’t even that big — it suddenly hit me: The outside had followed me in.
At first, I wondered if maybe it was just that the windows were super clean, providing clear views to the forest outside. But it was more than that.
For one thing, we were standing on rugged rock. Fallingwater’s floors are stone, waxed to a shine, and the walls are stone, too — all quarried from just west of the site. The walls echo nature’s formations, looking uncannily like the sides of the roads I’d just seen as I’d followed the rural mountain route to the house.
The stone, coupled with the relatively low ceilings, created a cozy, cavelike feeling. (Wright’s idea of “release” was based on a scale that seems relatively small for modern sensibilities accustomed to soaring ceilings; he designed for men 5-foot-8 and was known to say that anyone over 6 feet was a “weed.”)
Meanwhile, the windows on three sides of the room pulled me forward, beckoning me toward the vast deck.
But, wait, what was this? To my left was a glass box of sorts, covering a set of steps that led straight to the stream below. Our tour guide showed how a simple flip pulled the glass away. The whoosh of rushing water filled the air. I realized you could fish right here from your living room if you were so inclined.
I feel a bit silly saying it, but I was falling: This was love at first sight.