When people talk about the works of Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) the focus is usually on his grander houses and public buildings like Falling Water or the Guggenheim, but all too often his smaller homes for middle class families were overlooked. These smaller projects often captured the needs or personalities of the families that were to live in them. They also had smaller budgets so a lot of the magic is in the details and creative use of space.
The Zimmerman house in Manchester NH is a great example of one of these smaller homes and the only FLW house in New England that is open to the public.
Decades before the Not So Big House and the modern Green Building movement, FLW and his apprentices were pushing the design ideas of doing more in less space, investing in materials and craftsmanship to build character, building for the long term and going green when possible. In order to do more with less space, a lot more effort is spent on design and attention to detail. This can be seen in the way the grain of wood plugs are lined up in the Georgia Cyprus siding which are all laid out in combinations of 10″ and 3″ spacing as are many other details in the house including the masonry and walls and how the home’s design reflected the needs of the occupants. The Zimmerman’s loved music and entertaining and the living and dining spaces were laid out to host such events with grace. The attention to detail also flowed into the furniture in the home which was also designed by FLW and company and delivered as part of the house. The living room and dining room tables were designed to interlock and make a banquet table. The large music stand could hide stools, store music and provide lighting. The mail box was designed to reflect the aesthetic of the house and is the only know extant example of a FLW designed mailbox.
In this 1600 square foot home, which seems small compared to the McMansions popping up today, the house boasts some other interesting features which seem ahead of their time given the home was built in the early 1950s: radiant heat, vaulted ceilings, adaptive use of living space, gardens and windows that blur the distinction between interior and exterior space, custom cast concrete window frames that give privacy in the front, a wide array of modern appliances for the day, site layout designed for passive solar heating, integrated car port etc.
Why is this relevant to home builders and home buyers today? In recent years the effects of human impact on the planet — whether it be global warming or increasingly limited resources and also the sputtering economy are all stark reminders that we need to build for our present enjoyment and comfort but also with an eye for the future. To accomplish this we need to respect and incorporate the lessons learned by our forefathers and embrace the technological advances of our day. I want future generations to look on the work of my generation and feel like we were faithful stewards of the resources we had and I found my visit to the Zimmerman house to be a reminder that as joiner’s and house-wrights we are part of a continuum of forward looking craftsman the spans from the distant past well into the future. This line of reasoning always brings me back to the popular quote by Ruskin:
“When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for; and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, “See! This our father did for us.”” –John Ruskin
You can learn more about the Zimmerman House or plan a visit from the Currier’s web page for the ‘Z’ house as it is affectionately nicknamed here.