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