Taliesin: Home of Frank Lloyd Wright
by Maizong Thao, age 14 and Maixe Thao, age 15
Recently we visited Taliesin, the home of Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the most influential and well-known American architects. His home is unique because when he designed it, he combined influences from other cultures. Some of his other famous designs include the Guggenheim in New York City and the Monona Terrace, here in Madison.
Our tour of Taliesin began with a beautiful view of Wisconsin’s countryside from the vantage point of the garden outside. In the garden, our tour guide Jeff Hagen showed us where a large oak tree used to be. The tree fell in 1998 and damaged the house.
Wright was a very creative artist and Mr. Hagen showed us an example of this creativity. He decorated Taliesin with metal gates called “stanchions.” Farmers used stanchions to separate cows during milking. The stanchions are arranged vertically instead of horizontally. Mr. Hagen also showed us how Wright incorporated Japanese, Italian, and organic features into his designs. An example of an organic element used by Wright was the roof of Taliesin, which he designed to imitate the surrounding hills.
As we entered the house, Mr. Hagen showed us something that needs restoring: The stairs tilt because the hill under the home is shifting. He also pointed out that Taliesin’s entrance is not visible from the front of the house. Today, front doors face the street. However, many of Wright’s designs had hidden entrances like Taliesin’s. These entrances made the buildings mysterious and interesting.
Next we went through a walkway to Wright’s studio, which is separate from the house. As we passed through it, Mr. Hagen pointed out a nest of chirping sparrows living in a wall just outside. The studio, Mr. Hagen told us, was where Wright did most of his famous designs. We were amazed to hear that Wright had once redesigned the entire room to match one of his favorite Japanese prints. We also found out that he loved music and designed the studio windows to mimic piano keys.
We left the studio and crossed a small courtyard to the actual house. To enter, we had to put on surgical “booties” to protect the floors.
The first room we saw was the living room. Mr. Hagen told us that Wright himself had designed some of the living room’s furniture, such as the high-backed dining chairs, a serving table, a set of chairs, and a pendant lamp. The living room also has a large fireplace. Mr. Hagen said Wright was very fond of fireplaces because he thought they were the heart of a house. A total of 22 fireplaces are found inside Taliesin.
Outside the living room is a bird walk that gave us a beautiful view of Taliesin. Wright built it because his wife wanted to have a spot that was level with the trees for watching birds.
Our tour continued into the guest room where Wright’s famous friends stayed, including the poets Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost. The next room, a sitting room, had a very expensive carpet worth $1 million, said Mr. Hagen. The carpet was one of three from the imperial palace of China. Since the room wasn’t as big as the carpet, Wright actually cut it with scissors to make it fit the room.
The last room we visited was Wright’s bedroom. One of the first things we noticed about this room was the ceiling, which was just high enough to fit Wright’s 5’8” frame. The bedroom has a designing table, and Mr. Hagen said Wright would usually get up in the middle of the night and start designing houses. He added that Wright could get by on only three to four hours of rest. This room shows his dedication to his work and his designs.
Wright chose this valley as the site to build Taliesin because it is the land where his grandparents settled in the 1860’s after emigrating from Wales. The land reminded them of their Welsh homeland. He chose the name Taliesin after a Welsh poet. “Taliesin” means “shining brow.”
Taliesin Preservation, Inc. offers five different tours of the house and estate. The Taliesin estate includes the Hillside School, Taliesin, and the Romeo and Juliet windmill (built in 1887). Children under 12 are not allowed in the house, but they may take the outdoor tours. To visit Taliesin or make reservations, which are recommended, call 877-588-7900.