dancing with architecture: Frank Lloyd Wright's Gordon House in Silverton, Oregon

I was up in Oregon last week to officially see off my pals in Western State Water Council and was able to stop in and gawk at Frank Lloyd Wright's Gordon House. Evelyn and Conrad Gordon had a lovely lot in Wilsonville that fronted the Willamette on one side and had views of Mt Hood on the other. After Evelyn unsuccessfully tried to entice Wright to design a house for them via letter, she and her husband visited Taliesin in 1957 and scored an audience with the architect, who agreed to design them a house. Wright dipped back to a house he designed for Life Magazine in 1938 for a family that ultimately went Colonial. 

The only Wright in Oregon (and the only one open for tours in the Pacific Northwest), the Gordon House was one of the last Usonians he designed before his death in 1959. After bids came in at twice the "designed cost," it wasn't built until 1963 when the Gordons had the cash to build it. When Mr. Gordon balked at Wright's built-in furniture, explaining to Wright that his furniture wasn't comfortable, Wright asked him what he considered his most comfortable chair. Mr. Gordon referred to the bench seat in his pick-up truck. After Wright's students assessed that the secret was the seatback's 15-degree angle, Wright designed not only the built-in sofas with a 15-degree angle but nearly everything in the house. The house is also unusual for a Usonian in that it has a second story (which hosts the second and third bedrooms), a T-plan, and a basement. In all, the house holds 2,133 square-feet.

After Evelyn died in 1997, preceded in death by her husband, the new owners wanted to tear the house down. The Wright Conservancy stepped in as did the town of Silverton, who saved the building by moving it. Beautifully restored, the great room, with its 12-foot floor-to-ceiling windows and doors, is a stunning contrast to the more forboding low-ceilinged rest of the house (with the kitchen a notable exception). Well worth a visit!

Our own house is Usonian inspired, and the Gordon House comes the closest to being our floorplan with the public spaces all in a row, an office, a first-floor master, two additional bedrooms upstairs, and three-sides stairwell, and a top-of-the-stairs balcony. Instead of a T-plan, ours is an L-plan (and much more livable by today's standards).

If you go:
  • Get tickets well in advance for your day from www.thegordonhouse.org 
  • The tour is about an hour, and indoor photography is allowed! The guide was good, although, in a general issue with Wright guides, FLW gets credit for everything in Modern architecture.

the approach to the house

the entry with Wright's classic low ceiling

The glorious Great Room, which was stunning. The dining room was originally to the left where the piano is now. The Gordons moved the dining room table to the right.

The "library", a space within a space with the pick-up truck seats and built-in stereo.

I like the odd space on the left side of the library.

detail of the fretwork around the library

the windows are all doors that open outward

looking back toward the dining space

the stairs to the left and, in the far corner, a doorway to the "workspace" (the kitchen)

looking at the doorway to the kitchen from the other side. the ceiling here is two-stories tall to allow natural light in from a skylight (the docent incorrectly gave Wright credit for inventing the skylight (and under-cabinet lighting).

looking up toward the skylight

view from the office (originally of the river)

[no photos of the master; small!]

let's head up the stairs (but keep our heads down 'cause there ain't enough headroom for anyone shorter than Wright...)

at the top of the stairs is a little nook for weaving (the space is brighter than the photo)

heading toward the east is the second-floor bathroom

in the eastern bedroom

view from the eastern bedroom toward the great room wing

in the hallway looking east

in the western bedroom

model in the western bedroom

view from the western bedroom's balcony toward the great room wing

view from the western bedroom's balcony toward the carport

and now for a walk around the property:

and this is what I admire the most about Wright: his elevations are always well-proportioned and balanced--just beautiful!

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