Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Chasing Waterfalls

On an early May trip to the Keystone State to meet client contacts at Pennsylvania College of Technology, I added a day to the itinerary for a trek to another special destination: Fallingwater.

An afternoon inside this amazing Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, and hiking its densely forested grounds, is well worth the drive. I longed for more time on site (they kicked me out during sunset), and a return visit is an option to be explore down the road.

Wishes for a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's residential masterpiece began many years ago, and the long drive from mid-state Williamsport to south-southwestern Mill Run, Pa., brought to mind my earliest introduction to the Kaufmann home (via 1982 postage stamps) and a more recent re-introductions (via the outstanding 1998 Ken Burns documentary about the architect). 

It was helpful to be familiar with other Frank Lloyd Wright destinations prior to visiting Fallingwater as the experiences elsewhere helped frame questions. The guides -- from veterans to new arrivals -- are well versed in Fallingwater lore. 

Like other tours of Frank Lloyd Wright residences in Oak Park, Ill., Los Angeles and Bartlesville, Okla., as well as Spring Green and Racine, Wis., Fallingwater requires advance reservations with several ground rules in place for one's visit. More than 6 million people toured the house over the years, and with thanks to the media relations team on site, I enjoyed a complimentary ticket to the Guided House Tour.

The expansive visitor's center, a good hike uphill from the main house, offers several creature comforts to bookend time on property. Tours embark on a quarter-mile hike to meet the guides at a stream-spanning bridge. 

Storing cameras in a pocket or purse is a blessing while at the mansion and neighboring guest house
and servants' quarters -- visitors should focus on and react to the amazing structure, original interior design, custom/original furniture and gorgeous natural surroundings of Fallingwater's forest canopy, which is visible from every room's expansive windows and tiered sun decks. Every angle reveals something new, and there's plenty of time for snapping selfies down stream after the formal presentation of history.

During the tour, I recommend walking out to the edge of each level/patio for a peek down into the waterfall -- there's not a bad spot in or out of the place.

One nice surprise in a few rooms: Amazing and original artwork by Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso and other masters, as well as some Japanese art given to the Kaufmann family by Mr. Wright himself. According to my designated tour guide, Frida Kahlo and her on-again-off-again husband Rivera were just two of many prominent guests to stay in the home.

It was interesting to learn the back story on some design features, including the low-down on down-low plumbing (the loos are all very close to the ground at the Kaufmann's request), custom windows (similar to some found at Taliesin, the architect's home in Central Wisconsin) and drainage issues in several areas (we learned Fallingwater was prone to leaks just like other Wright creations). 

I found the spring-fed seven-foot-deep swimming pool and wisteria-covered guest house fascinating and inviting. Even with chatty tourists, each room provided a degree of peace and quiet, then while listening many birds and that waterfall kept on gurgling. 

But my favorite spot in the home was definitely the massive main room on the ground floor, which served many needs of the family including living room, office, dining room, library and sitting room complete with enormous fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows. The bench sofas along the exterior walls made me want to curl up with a book and read between peeks into the woods. 

This main room also provided stairway access down to the cascading mountain stream for which the property is named. In this room and upstairs, we learned the home's design features provided rich engagement of three senses: infinity views of the terrain, the smell of fresh air filtered by the trees, and the sounds of the waterfall crossing the home's foundation.

Fallingwater is a real treat for the Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast or novice. Be sure to wear walking or hiking shoes to explore. 

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver except the postage stamp via U.S.P.S.

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