When it comes to my taste in houses, I prefer the charm of Miss Clara Williams’ home in the recent movie “War Room.” Warm, cozy, lace curtains at the windows, and a flight of stairs to the second floor bedrooms. A porch fronts the older house. Rocking chairs and baskets of flowers create a sense of “home.”
With that picture in my head, I’ve never been enticed by the clean, straight lines and functional furniture of a Frank Lloyd Wright house. The first time I actually encountered one of the famous architect’s houses, I was on a press trip in Alabama. When I noticed a tour of Mildred Rosenbaum’s home on our itinerary, I had little interest. However, the story about the house built in 1938—and the woman who opened her home to tours in order to continue to live there—turned out to be one of the features I wrote from that particular trip.
Although at that time, Wright had completed architectural masterpieces such as Fallingwater, the famous country home of a wealthy Pennsylvania department store owner, the houses he designed for the Rosenbaums and a family named Jacobs in Wisconsin matched the changing lifestyles and needs of the American family following the Great Depression. Naming them “Usonians,” a word he coined roughly from the United States of America, he conceived flat-roofed structures of brick, glass, and wood rising from concrete floors, integrating the surrounding landscapes into the design of the houses. The Jacobs and Rosenbaum houses incorporated the first carports, the first use of radiant heating, “curtain” walls, and a multilevel cantilevered roof. Every room had an outside access.
In 2013, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, located in wooded terrain outside Bentonville, Arkansas, purchased the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Bachman-Wilson house as part of an effort to save it from repeated flooding. The 1,800 square-foot structure was disassembled in Millstone, New Jersey. In 2014, the house, originally commissioned in 1954 by Gloria Bachman and Abe Wilson, lay in piles of glass and mahogany waiting to be shipped to Bentonville. Although rebuilding required painstaking steps to reconstruct the house as accurately as possible, the long awaited opening date is November 11, 2015. The house can be toured Mondays from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.; Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Crystal Bridges is closed on Tuesdays. While there is no charge for tours, tickets are required and will be made available to the general public beginning November 2. Guided and self-guided tours will be available every day except Tuesdays and Fridays. Guests can choose an hour-long guided tour that includes exhibits inside the museum, plus the house and property which overlook Crystal Spring.
Over decades several families called the house in Millstone, New Jersey, their home. Dylan Turk, curator for Crystal Bridges researched the different owners and emphasizes that the interior of the house holds elements of all who lived in the house. Wright’s original design included a landing outside to make canoe trips on a nearby river more accessible. In 1967, Bachman and Wilson sold the home to the Gabe family, whose hobbies included ceramics and photography. They lived in the house until the early 1970s and hosted annual tours. The Gabes sold the house to Felix and Richard Fabrizzo, two doctors who used the property primarily as a get-away. Curator Turk stated in a recent newspaper article that he has the least information about the Fabrizzos and the most about the recent residents, Lawrence and Sharon Tarantino. The house is staged with books on photography and medicine, as well as sculptures, including one by Lawrence Tarantino. Currently no art is displayed on the mahogany walls. However, Turk states that the presentations will evolve with time.
The Tarantinos, who are an architecture and design team, provided an aging copy of The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, its red cover fading. In the newspaper article, Sharon Tarantino said, “We realized the Museum could use the history of the Millstone Valley where the house stood and the catalog of Frank Lloyd Wright houses. We used to carry that around with us. It was our Frank Lloyd Wright bible.”
In a tradition that began nearly 20 years ago during the first meeting of the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservancy, the Tarantinos would take the book and have other owners of Wright homes sign it. Included are signatures from Abe Wilson, the house’s original owner and his daughter, Chana Wilson. During early tours, the book is prominently displayed on one of the Wright-designed tables in the living room. Eventually, it will make its way onto one of the bookshelves, which run the length of the room.
Museum chief engagement officer Niki Stewart said about a recent visit from the Tarantinos: “It was clear they were excited to be home again. Seeing them with a suitcase of books and other decorations was a good reminder that this isn’t just a structure. It’s a home, and it tells the stories of the people who lived here.”
While I look forward to touring this newest acquisition of Crystal Bridges—and marveling in the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, I still feel more at home in my traditional house—red brick with white shutters—and filled with mementos and clutter of my life and family over the last fifty-seven years. I’ll visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s almost sterile designs, but I’ll return to my house with cushy couches, country-styled décor, located on my particular corner in Heber Springs.
Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com