Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Richland Centre, Wisconsin in 1867 and died in Phoenix, Arizona in 1959.

Frank Lloyd Wright is widely viewed as the foremost American architect of the 20th century. He designed more than a thousand buildings during his career.

Born in the Midwest, he spent much of his professional life there, though he also practised in California, New York and Japan. He married his first wife in 1889 and had six children. An irascible personality meant his life was peppered with personal scandal and financial worry.

Furniture was integral to Wright’s design philosophy. He believed that architecture, interiors and furnishings must arise from the same conceptual principles - an approach he described as ‘Organic Architecture’.

Organic architecture

Perspective showing living room in the Avery Coonley House, Oak Park, Illinois, by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1907–8. From Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (Berlin, 1910). NAL no. 95 Drawer 12

Perspective showing living room in the Avery Coonley House, Oak Park, Illinois, by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1907–8. From Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright (Berlin, 1910). NAL no. 95 Drawer 12

Wright hated the fussy, historicist furniture available in America in the 1890s. His concept of ‘Organic Architecture’ required furnishings to ‘be of the building itself’ - to reflect the same design principles and materials as the architecture.

To fulfil this ideal, Wright had to design his own furniture, despite having little wood-working experience. Strongly influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement, he started in 1889 with his home in Oak Park, Illinois. Here he designed simple furniture in local oak that he felt reflected contemporary American democratic ideals.

For corporate settings, his furniture was more structurally and functionally innovative, and often made of metal.

Design approach

Chair from the Isobel Roberts House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1908. Museum no. W.11-1982

Chair from the Isobel Roberts House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1908. Museum no. W.11-1982

Unlike many European Modernists, Wright did not advocate standardised, functional furniture, but rather designed each item for a unique interior, use and client.

In both architecture and furniture he was preoccupied with geometric forms and strong intersecting planes. The furniture was ‘architectonic’ in that it was architectural in character. Wright’s built-in furniture harmonised with the materials and scale of interiors. The free-standing furniture, when arranged as a group, could create an intimate, secondary space within a room.

Decoration was to be integrated into, rather than applied to, a surface or architectural element.

Workshop practice

Given the bespoke nature of Wright’s designs his furniture was available to only a small number of clients until late in his career. But unlike Arts and Crafts designers, Wright saw the value of machines. He extolled their ‘wonderful cutting, shaping, smoothing and repetitive capacity’, which could master, with ease, the signature square-section spindles of his chairs.

But not all firms were willing to take on Wright’s unusual designs. He often had to seek out small specialist firms to produce his furniture using a combination of machine tools and hand-finishing.



David Adjaye, architect and furniture designer, discusses three Frank Lloyd Wright chairs

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Christopher Wilk, Head of the Furniture, Textiles and Fashion Department at the V&A, discusses three Frank Lloyd Wright chairs

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Chair for the Ward Willits house, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1902. Museum no. W.4-1992

Chair for the Ward Willits house, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1902. Museum no. W.4-1992

Desk chair, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1936-7. Museum no. W.44-1981

Desk chair, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1936-7. Museum no. W.44-1981

Office chair, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1904. Museum no. W.43-1981

Office chair, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1904. Museum no. W.43-1981


Audio description of the Furniture Gallery's Frank Lloyd Wright display

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