About an hour and twenty minutes southwest of Pittsburgh is one of America’s great vacation homes.
It was 1936. Edgar and Liliana Kauffman wanted to build a vacation home. They wanted a home that would let them connect with nature and escape the chaos of city life. Edgar and Liliana both loved the natural wonders of Pennsylvania’s countryside. They hired the most creative architect they could find. They hired Frank Lloyd Wright.
The Kauffman’s, who owned Kauffman’s Department Store, were well-off to say the least and they planned to spend $5000 on their luxurious vacation home which, in those days, was not small change. But Frank Lloyd Wright had even grander ideas and Frank’s ideas didn’t take available dollars into consideration.. By the time “Fallingwater” was complete, it ended up costing the Kauffman’s around $150,000. In those early days of the twentieth century, it was an exorbitant sum to pay.
The Kauffman’s expected Wright to design them a house overlooking a waterfall. Instead, Wright designed a house that was a part of the waterfall. To really see the Wright’s vision of house that appears to float on the water you should take the 15 minute nature trail that leads to a couple of view points on the opposite bank.
A visit to Fallingwater is really a bit of a hassle and it seems they could make it more visitor friendly but the process is what it is. In addition to extra time to navigate the winding roads to and from the home you should give yourself two hours there. A tour requires advance planning and a reservation. Tours are seasonal, March through December. Several different types of tours are available. The one hour tour was plenty for me as I feel it would be for most visitors. It was leisurely and allowed plenty of time in each space. it required a lot of waiting around for the tour to start and then a 1/4 mile walk from the visitor center to the house. A more in depth tour can also be had if you like. Tours are often sold out days in advance. I purchased my tickets on-line, choosing the date and time. This is not a tour for the physically challenged. While it is possible to take a shuttle to avoid the walk from the visitor’s center to the house, the inside of the house has many narrow stairways and uneven steps. Some rooms are very small with narrow doorways. Outside on the numerous patios, the railing and edge walls are extremely low. It would be easy to fall over and care should be taken if you are unbalanced or touring with children. Children under age 6 are not permitted on any tour (and for good reason).
Photography, painting and even sketching is not allowed inside the house. I’m not sure what the point of that rule is. Frank Lloyd Wright is no longer around to object if someone wants to take one of his ideas and improve upon it. And while photographs and other art forms are permitted to be taken of the grounds and outside views of the home, their website states that those photos or other works of art can be “for personal use only” and cannot be “sold, published, or posted on a website without permission…This includes, but is not limited to all photographs, paintings, sketches, and drawings generated during your visit.” Neither may reproductions or prints be produced. Are they kidding? Some of the first people to be interested in Fallingwater, I would guess, would be artists. Telling a painter they can’t go home, make a creation, and sell it if they so desire, is a bit over the top. If the Conservancy that runs this place is looking to make friends (and increase donors) they’ve sure picked an odd way to do it.
Fallingwater is an interesting site to see if you are an architecture buff. Their attitudes towards visitors and their restrictive policies however, will keep me from ever making a return visit. Here’s a photo from nearby Ohiopyle instead.