The Farnsworth House


Last month we took a trip to Chicago to visit our dear friend Anthony.  He planned the most amazing trip!  We saw so much from the perspective of not just a local but an architect.  The best part was we never felt rushed.  In fact, it was so mellow (albeit in the end exhausting for everyone) that we did a last minute trip out to Plano (an hour outside of Chicago) to see the Farnsworth House.  

We happened to be there on Mother’s Day and it was really special to see this great work of architecture with my family.  I knew of the house but have often confused it with the Phillip Johnson Glass House. I didn’t know much of it’s history or about Dr. Edith Farnsworth, who commissioned the house.  

In a nutshell, what started out as a modest, weekend get away turned into a total nightmare for Dr. Farnsworth.  By the end of the construction the cost had more than doubled and her friendship with Mies van der Rohe was ruined.  So, that’s pretty standard in the world of construction;  costs balloon and relationships end.  However, as we were told more and more of the history and I walked through the house and I put myself back in time to the 1950’s the more I felt I could “read” between the lines. 

Dr. EDITH Farnsworth.  A female doctor.  A highly successful female doctor in the 1950s. That alone speaks volumes. I can’t imagine her success came easy or without a heap  of condescending, sexually infused comments on a daily basis.  She was looking for a tranquil, secluded weekend home to retreat to. She intended to go there often which is why it’s relatively close to downtown Chicago. That again speaks volumes. When you see the place you feel it’s isolation.  Her work must have been tough and to survive it she needed to get away from people. 

So, she hires Mies van der Rohe, a brilliant well-known architect. The story of how they came to work together is recorded from each of their perspective.  Her’s in her diary and his in a court transcript.  They met at a dinner party, that’s about the only thing their stories have in common.  It may as well have been two different events.  

There are details in the house that would have angered me terribly if I was the owner.  They almost seem like passive aggressive stabs at Farnsworth, specially for being a woman. Of course this is solely MY opinion and not based on anything said by the docent. Mies didn’t set aside an area for Farnsworth to put her clothes. There was no wardrobe space or furniture.  He said she should store them in the kitchen. Can you imagine the kind of wardrobe a successful female doctor has?  Put your Chanel in the kitchen! I can certainly imagine the reaction that would elicit today! 

The longest room or area is the kitchen. And it’s so obvious that we had a discussion amongst ourselves about it.  It was as if Mies was saying that’s where she belonged. I don’t know, it was just odd. Keep in mind the house was never meant for more than one person.  It was never an “entertainers” home.  Why such a large kitchen? 

Mies chose all the furnishing for the house  and only included one lamp.  When she asked how she was suppose to see throughout the house he said she should carry the lamp with her and plug it in wherever she needed. I guess he figured she had nothing better to do that to carry around a lamp.  

Farnsworth took Mies to court. The write ups and gossip surrounding the event are all about her being in love with him and that she was angry the friendship didn’t turn into anything more. Or the other option, that she was a scorned lover.   No one thought it was about a house that started out costing $45,000 and ended up costing $90,000.  

I have no personal knowledge of either side’s personality.  However, knowing the era and knowing what creatives with egos are like, its as if the house spills its secrets when you walk through it.  

Ok, enough about the drama of the house.  The house is beautiful. The details are exquisite.  The landscape is serene.  The lines of the house flow with the river that runs along side it.  It’s pretty cool.  If you are a lover of architecture this has to be on your top 10 list of homes to visit. And here are some pictures!

It’s almost a mile walk to get into see the property.  So, if you go wear appropriate footwear. 



Mies took into consideration that the area gets flooded by the river but even so it got flooded just 2 years after completion and several times since. 


Details.  Look at the centering of the beam to the tiles.  

This is the porch. You have to take off your shoes and wear socks to go inside. 

You can’t photograph the interiors but you can photograph them from the outside.  I want every single piece of furniture in there! 


Anthony with our wonderful docent.  You can see the kitchen to the left.  


Dave and little G. Cooler dad picture?  I don’t think so!

Oh how I love this picture.  My girls and I and amazing architecture. 


How Memento are the next two pictures?  This happened by accident btw.  Dave taking a picture of Anthony’s feet going up the stairs while I took a picture of Dave taking a picture. And we took them as they are, one in black and white and the other in color!  Just like Memento!  Ok, I’m geeking out!  


Children were welcomed on the tour.  They were very kind. I think it helps to have a stroller that blends in with the good design.  Hee hee!


One of my favorite photos of the entire trip to Chicago.  Anthony, is an architect.  We’ve been friends since high school and he’s known he’s wanted to be an architect since then.  Mies van der Rohe is his favorite but this was his first time at the Farnsworth House.  Very special day for all!



Mies did end up building a wardrobe and entertainment piece for the house.  However, he delivered the piece to Farnsworth under a different name. At that point they were no longer speaking to one another. Mies didn’t want another person designing the furniture for the interiors but he knew if he delivered it as his own design Farnsworth wouldn’t want it. I only got a picture of the wardrobe side but the other side has a sound system.  The whole things is brilliant.  The sound comes out to you when the doors are open and when they are shut the sound goes up creating a surround sound effect in the entire house.  

This piece is now in a separate building on the property because it’s received too much water damage from the numerous floods.  It’s here for it’s own safety.   




One thought on “The Farnsworth House

  1. Pingback: Mother’s Day | kriselkeeper

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