BIG House Tour: Fallingwater

A popular post on many home and design blogs is a house tour. This can be of the blogger’s home or another reader’s home, there are many options. I am a big fan of these tours, because I’m nosey. No, because I always like to see how other people live, what their tastes are, etc. So, when I was planning this blog, I thought, “How can I improve of the house tour idea? How can I kick it up a notch?” This is what I came up with:

BIG House Tours

I thought it would be interesting to go into BIG houses, important houses, and see how people live. I want to see where people have really lived or are living. So, I’ve set my sites on some famous houses to tour. BIG houses. (Okay you get the “big” part by now, sorry.) I’ll be looking for great homes all over the US and abroad. If you know of some great houses to visit, send them along to me!

Today’s BIG House Tour is a house icon for architecture. Unfortunately, whenever people talk about it, you normally only ever see one exterior angle of the house.

This one:

Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Or, for variation, this one:

Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

“Fallingwater” was designed in 1936 by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Edgar Kauffmann of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mr. Kaufmann was the owner of the Kaufmann’s department store, so he could afford Frank’s exorbitant design fees. (Full disclosure: I have visited this house and had a fantastic tour guide that gave us the real skinny on design details about this house. I’ll add the tour guide trivia in italics.)

Anyway, the house was designed in 1936 (apparently after Mr. Kaufmann showed up at Wright’s studio and demanded to see the design he’d already paid for and which was many months late) but was not built until 1939. (Good stuff, huh?) What makes this house important to the architecture world is the way that it fits into the existing landscape. The house is cantilevered over an existing waterfall. The sandstone used for the building was quarried on the Kaufmann property and used with stacked stone pillars and reinforced concrete to form the structure. (A few years ago, the conservancy had to pay to have most of that reinforced concrete ripped out and replaced. Frank  tended to be stingy on the contractor and materials purchasing and the concrete had seriously eroded.) The house is much larger than it looks, as you can see below, and it is extensively terraced up the natural grade of the hill. Let’s go inside…

Image courtesy of

Upon entering the living room, the first thing you notice about this space is the, well, s  p  a  c  e. I have used the guide-book photo to illustrate this point (please excuse the page fold), because my regular camera lens just wasn’t wide enough to capture it all.

Living Room Image courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

The light coming in from the windows on three sides of the room was beautiful. See the wet-looking flagstone floor? It is waxed every six months. I would have never thought of waxing bare stone, but is was very nice to stand on and felt a bit like a cork floor. Maybe I was just getting the benefit of around 142 wax coats. Frank Lloyd Wright designed all of the furniture for this house, as he did on many of his houses. There are window seats all over this house, which I love, so I loved the (most) of the furniture. (More about that when we get there.)

Another noteworthy thing about this house was the ceiling height. It felt a little low for me, in every room. I’m 5’11” tall. Two of the other people in our group, those at 6’4″ and 6’5″ agreed with me, while the 5’6″ person in our group said it felt fine. (Frank Lloyd Wright was approximately 5’7″ tall.)

Dining Area Image courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

This picture was taken standing in front of the living room windows, looking back into the room. You can see the dining area on the far wall is framed along the ceiling with cantilevered shelves that also run along the living room windows. (Look at the top left corner of the picture to see an example of these.) Do you see the big red ball nestled in the fireplace wall? That is a giant metal kettle on an iron arm that can be swung into the fireplace to mull wine. (The Kaufmann family tried this only once before a holiday party, but the wine took 7 hours to get just slightly warm. From then on, they mulled their wine in great big pots on the stove in the kitchen and just poured it into the fireplace kettle right before the party started to serve their guests.) Next is the kitchen…

Kitchen Image courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

The kitchen window was dreamy. Wouldn’t you enjoy your cup of coffee each morning with that view? Everyone in our group, however, agreed that Frank Lloyd Wright was probably not much of a cook. Hence, the kettle in the living room? A conventional layout with the standard cabinets and appliances of the day framed the room, but the countertop lighting was rather dark. We all wished he had at least put an extra window over the sink.

Next, we take some stairs up to the bedrooms. Here’s a beautiful view of the private rooms all aglow from an outside terrace. Very cosy!

Terrace View Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

(Yikes! Can you see those cracks along the horizontal planes of concrete? Those are examples of what had to be repaired. And you can see why!)

There several bedrooms stacked on top of each other with the exact same floor plan and furniture in each room. One of them was turned into a study, which you can see on the top floor of the previous image. I love this part of the master bedroom.


Master Bedroom Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

I really find the three-legged chair intriguing. I wish we had been allowed to sit in it. This is also a great image to point out the use of more cantilevered limestone built into the structural wall, yet providing ledges for everyday household use. I don’t have any pictures of any bathrooms in the house. They are all closed to the public and the guide assured us they were rather too small for pictures anyway. I was surprised. I thought if there was ever a house built for a soaking tub, this was it. Then we went to see this…


Pool Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Did you know this house has a pool? Well, this beats a good soaking tub any day. The pool is terraced up the hillside from the main house and lives just on the front edge of the guest house terrace. There’s a guest house? I know, I had no idea, either. Half of the guest house actually contains the big 3-5 car garage and servants quarters. Ah, servants. This explains the kitchen a bit more, doesn’t it? Here are the guest apartment rooms…


Guest Living Area Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

I’d be happy to stay here. Roaring fire, popcorn, a few old movies on a big screen tv…sign me up!


Guest Bedroom Image courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

Does this bed look short to you? We all thought it did. Okay, people were a little shorter 100 years ago, but still. So we asked the guide.  (Frank was not a man to mince words. He often told clients that he thought tall people “should be cut off at the knees.” Apparently, he designed all the beds in this house with this philosophy in mind. They are all several inches short than the standards of the time.) I sure hope the Kaufmann’s weren’t tall.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our BIG House Tour of Fallingwater today. Would enjoy living at Fallingwater? What surprised you about the interior rooms? I think Frank would really appreciate us closing this post with a comment from him.


Image courtesy of Wikipedia


“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”  ~Frank Lloyd Wright

Posted on March 24, 2011, in Architecture, BIG House Tours. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I toured Falling Water once and found it fascinating, especially after all the stories I had heard about it from a college room mate who was an architecture student. It’s a very comfortable house. The lower deck is suspended ourdoors just above the waterfall and you could stand and listen to the water for hours if you wanted. Take the time to go there if you are ever in the area east of Pittsburg.

  2. I’ve been there, too, and you’re right, Wright let no quarter for tall people. It’s beautiful and it really does blend into the hill rather than sit on it. You see the main house in all the pictures, but before I’d been there, I never new about the separate guest house and the lovely foot bridge just upstream of the house. Thanks for the great trip down memory lane.

  3. I read “Loving Frank”, a few years ago and I had been to this house, earlier. The stories that your tour guide related sounded just like the book portrayed Frank Lloyd Wright. I remember those short beds! It was his way or the highway on his concepts of design. He was ahead of his time and I think his architecture is spectacuar! Thanks for the tour,again. Looking forward to your next one!

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