Touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Masterpiece: Fallingwater

Fallingwater - a behind-the-scenes tour through the iconic home in western Pennsylvania.

Ever since my parent’s told me about their walking tour of Fallingwater,  it’s been on my bucket list. The home is located about 90 minutes south of Pittsburgh in the rural mountains of Pennsylvania. So it’s definitely a journey!

The drive along the way to Fallingwater. Yes, you’re deep in rural Pennsylvania.

I grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania and Fallingwater seemed like an unwieldy trek even from there. And here we are now — flying all the way from LA to check it out! But is it worth all this effort? Definitely! It falls into that special category of places I’ve seen that are so epic, that it somehow lives up to the hype — much like the first time seeing the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat in Cambodia or the Golden Gate Bridge.

We made it to Fallingwater. But where is the house? You’ll have to walk even further into the woods.

Kevin signed us up for the special in-depth tour ($80 per person), which required a 6 AM wake-up call at our comfy Kimpton Monaco Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. Clearly, no late night partying for this birthday boy! Luckily, the hotel had coffee. And that I was driving, since Kevin was out cold within 2 minutes upon entering the moving vehicle.

Kevin is going to need something a little stronger than tea to keep him awake!

The in-depth tour is the way to go. Not only do you get a smaller group, but you are allowed access to other parts of the house the regular tour doesn’t go. Also, you’re allowed to take photos inside the house (a major motivator for us!). The day we visited, it was raining off and on, and they even provided umbrellas along the way. Clearly, they have this tour down to a science!

The cafe, in case you need to fuel up before your tour. But no food or drinks are allowed inside the house. So eat up fast!

The history of the home and how it all came together is incredible. It was once a weekend retreat for the Kaufmann family, who owned the successful Kaufmann department stores in downtown Pittsburgh (which is now being converted into apartment lofts).

The original Kaufmann’s department store today in downtown Pittsburgh. It was converted into a Macy’s but is now  transitioning into high-end apartments.

While Frank Lloyd Wright is revered as one of history’s greatest architects, it wasn’t always the case. Around the time Fallingwater was built, many critics considered him to be washed up. The Great Depression hit and the demand for lavish projects went down. Plus, much like the dining scene in LA, his designs weren’t the new and trendy thing. And many considered his style to be anachronistic (and yes, a good SAT word!).

The walkway to Fallingwater

But the Kaufmann’s were drawn to his unique style of incorporating natural elements and blending in with the surroundings. In fact, the site was originally a camp where the family would go to escape the industrial haze of Pittsburgh. The city was so polluted back then that the street lights were often turned on during the day to see. So the family upgraded their digs — and what an upgrade they got.

Kevin looks out at the iconic waterfall that falls from the home.

The home went well above the $30,000 budget — ballooning to $155,000. And Wright was pretty much a control freak when it came to his homes. Our guide gave one notable example, where he even chose the clothing for the owners when it first opened! That type of detail is on display at Fallingwater, where Wright attached most of the bulky furniture into the walls so it couldn’t be moved. Plus, he had final approval on anything else done inside the home!

Inside the kitchen with quite the view

Today, as you walk through, the home looks very much the same as when it was first used.

Inside the living room of Fallingwater

One of my favorite features in the home was the round kettle where they brewed tea. The large arm would swing into the fireplace and be carefully placed back into the wall.

Our guide demos how the teapot worked, and swings it from the fireplace into the wall.

Wright was also playing with the idea of design and space — dropping the ceiling, which forced the visitor to look outside. The natural surrounding was just as important as the home’s design.

One of the most beautiful parts of the home was the water element. The family could wander down from the living room through the custom-glass door and walk directly into the stream that runs along the home!

The walkway into the stream below.

Wright also liked to incorporate the land into the home – and along the way, our guide pointed out spots where boulders and rocks were part of the actual foundation. It served as a reminder to the owners that they were living on the land.

Kevin points out the boulder as part of the home’s foundation.

The upstairs bedrooms are where you can see how home and nature become one. Each of the tiny rooms open up to a giant balcony (clearly inviting the visitors to the home to enjoy nature). The rooms are designed in a way where you feel like you’re in your own private wing of the house — when you are actually just steps away. Also, the rooms are surrounded with giant windows where you’re clearly waking up with the sunrise!

Inside one of the upstairs bedrooms.

A view from the upstairs balcony off the bedroom

There is no such thing as a small detail in Fallingwater. The guide shows how the windows can be opened for the maximum view (and eliminating any 90 degree corners).

Fallingwater remained in the Kaufmann family’s possession from 1937 to 1963. And Edgar Kaufmann Jr., who was referred as the “perennial bachelor” (i.e. gay in real life), got the home after his dad passed in 1955. He later donated it and the surrounding land to the nonprofit trust called the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. The foundation has done an amazing job preserving the home as roughly 70,000 people pass through each year. Our tour wrapped in the back cottage, which was often another place to house guests. It was equally stunning as the main building and only available for viewing on the special tours.

Kevin in front of the guest cottage behind the main building.

The walkway to the separate cottage – again, no detail overlooked with the covering over the walkway to look like a waterfall.

Fallingwater has been kept in its original condition — with just a few changes, including a gorgeous visitors’ pavilion, designed by Kaufmann’s longtime companion. It was such a special place — and we couldn’t believe 2 hours passed. It’s not to be missed — even if it requires a 6 AM wake up time. And trust me, I don’t like to wake up early!

View from the vantage point — it’s not to be missed.

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Touring Frank Lloyd Wright's Masterpiece: Fallingwater
Article Name
Touring Frank Lloyd Wright's Masterpiece: Fallingwater
Description
Fallingwater is a must when visiting Pittsburgh. While Frank Lloyd Wright is revered as one of history’s greatest architects, it wasn't always the case. Around the time Fallingwater was built, many critics considered him to be washed up. The Great Depression hit and the demand for lavish projects went down. Plus, much like the dining scene in LA, his designs weren't the new and trendy thing. And many considered his style to be anachronistic.

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