Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Frank Lloyd Wright in Florence, Alabama: The Rosenbaum's Usonian House

We spent two full days in Florence, Alabama and at the top of my priority list (after Alabama Chanin, of course) was visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright house in town.  As a teenager I owned a book on Wright and pored over it assiduously, but had never set foot in one of his houses. 

The house tour was fascinating, I will say that.  I spent two hours with a furrowed brow, concentrating so hard that I had a shattering headache by the time we left.

The house was commissioned by the newlywed Rosenbaums in 1939 and was constructed of cypress, glass and brick.  Wright exceeded his budget by 100%.  Nine years later,  the Rosenbaums commissioned Wright again to built an addition to accommodate their expanding family.  The house began to fall apart not long after the couple moved in; the roof sprang leaks, the heating system failed, and a cantilever had to be supported by planks.

When the city of Florence took over the house they spent about $750,000 on restoration because the house had not weathered the years well at all.

Here is what you see directly in front when you walk in the door--a brick entry.

But off to the right is the main room:

The book case on the left apparently holds up the wall, which is horizontal cypress board and batten, and bows inward when not covered by books.  (!)

The boys' 'dormitory'--note the built-in storage and beds, and the tiny sliver of a door that leads to the laundry/kitchen.

The kitchen in the addition of the house, just off of the boys' dormitory. 

Note the built-in towel racks!

A bedroom. The detail in the lights overhead is repeated throughout the house. These rooms are tiny, and the doorways are 24" wide, a detail Wright stubbornly refused to change. 

A long hallway-I think this is in the addition. 

The 'workspace,' which was the original kitchen.  It is tiny!  I do not think Frank Lloyd Wright, for all his genius in design work, had any desire to actually create a kitchen space that would be truly workable for a family.

This gorgeous spot is the dining area.  The table and chairs are fairly tiny and close together. The furniture was designed by Wright, but Mrs. Rosenbaum did not like these chairs--so she got rid of them and replaced them with the popular Eames chairs. 

The "workspace" as seen from the dining area--it's tiny!

Reproductions of the original chairs Wright designed for the house (I love the blue)....

...and Eames chairs preferred by the family. 

A Wright-designed side table. 

Mr. Rosenbaum's study, which is off the main living area. 

I love this glass corner.

A beautiful spot with soul: Mrs. Rosenbaum's piano, one of the only items *not* designed by Wright.

 The Rosenbaums wanted window screens, but initially Wright refused.  They persisted, however, noting that summertime in Alabama on the banks of the Tennessee River necessitated screens.  He finally relented, and they used these gorgeous screens with a golden hue.

The house is extraordinary, and had a cool, intellectual feel...whereas I like a home with a warm, soulful feel.  Touring the house was so provocative that I could not stop boring my husband with my chatter for the next day..I know he got tired of my endless monologues on style, function, modernism, the philosophy of home life, et cetera....but it was fascinating to me!


  1. Thank you for all the photos! I, for one, would have loved to monologue with you. Hoping to be there soon.

  2. I toured Fallingwater years ago and it really exploded my idea of HOME. I love FLW's details and textures, but the liveability was not always to my taste. And his disregard for the clients' budgets and desires - I do not like that. Yes, as you wrote, it's a complicated experience that needs much discussion :)