Frankly Speaking

Frank Lloyd Wright changed the way we build and the way we live. Visiting Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater, both in western Pennsylvania south of Pittsburgh, I came away with greater appreciation for his work and a better sense of the contrary, uncompromising man he was.

Kentuck Knob was completed in 1956 for Bernadine and her husband, ice cream magnate I.N. Hagan. The house is a good example of Wright’s Usonian style, meant to be practical for middle-class clients and run without staff. Because he loathed clutter, Wright refused to provide a garage and instead built the Hagens a carport (and is said to have coined the

Kentuck Knob carport

word.) Wright didn’t believe in storage spaces either and wanted the house’s rooms to be small but somehow Mrs. Hagan prevailed so the kitchen was

KK kitchen burners

enlarged, (with clever burners that flip up to preserve counter space),  the living room expanded and the outdoor dining porch made bigger so the skylights became part of the “ceiling.” I found the house dark and many elements—ceilings, beds, desks– low as Wright, a small man, designed on a scale that worked for him but must have been a challenge for tall guests. Getting in and out of the bathtubs looks like you’d need a hoist.

As planned, the house blends into the landscape starting from the crescent-shaped entrance curling around the courtyard. We were told that the site was originally bare but the Hagans planted thousands of trees that have grown up and are at least partly responsible for the lack of light in the living room. At the rear there is a TDF view of the Youngiogheny River gorge with surrounding hills and farmland.

Fallingwater, the weekend retreat of the Edgar Kaufmann family, was completed in 1937 amid squabbling about how much weight the cantilevered structure could bear. (Major renovations took place in 2001.) Kaufmann wanted his house to sit opposite the waterfall; contrarily, Wright built it directly over Bear Run Creek which is why Edgar Jr. reportedly referred to FW as “Rising Mildew.” Since Wright designed houses to blend fully into the natural world, bedrooms are small to encourage being outdoors; the living room hearth integrates boulders from the site and many windows have no surround so they fit

FW windows I’m glad not to have to wash

seamlessly into the walls. Stunning and unusual yes; also uncomfortable. FW  has over one hundred stone steps and both houses have very narrow passages and built-in benches in the living room that are aesthetically pleasing but would make conversation hard. Sybarite that I am, most Wright-designed furniture looks difficult to live with. As a man on one of my FW tours said, “when you bought a Wright house, you had to take the entire package,” meaning style first, the rest maybe not so much.

Looking for a recipe that goes with Pennsylvania (Wright famously didn’t give a damn about food) inevitably comes up as “Pennsylvania Dutch.) Fall is coming so it might be a good time to trot out:



Apple Crisp


3 cups sliced tart baking apples, such as Granny Smith

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup butter, preferably unsalted, room temperature

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375° F. Arrange apple slices in an 8-inch square baking dish. Combine flour, sugar and butter. Mix with hands until small lumps form. Add nuts and sprinkle over apples. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until apples are tender and top is lightly browned. Place on a cooling rack and let cool slightly before serving warm or at room temperature.  I’d serve with vanilla ice cream.

Want to buy a FLW house? Here are several on the market, most at what seem like low prices. Good luck with the upkeep:


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One Response to Frankly Speaking

  1. Jessica Clerk says:

    Hi, M:
    Another badly needed witty Mari blog post; chortling through this one….

    The crisp sounds super… it goes on the list. BTW: once made an apple pie with a dash of
    Laphroaig (sp?) a dash might help combat the rising damps….