Exploring the Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright

Exploring the Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright

Visit, and even stay in, Frank Lloyd Wright houses within driving distance of Northern Virginia.

I lived in Northern Virginia for years before I realized that there was a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Alexandria that was open to the public—the Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey house. Having visited a number of his other houses, I had to see it.

On the day I visited, tour guide Elizabeth Simon described the interesting history of the house. In the late 1930s, Loren & Charlotte Pope wanted to build a home. They had already contracted for a Cape Cod-style house when they discovered the noted American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Loren wrote a six-page letter to Wright begging him to design their house, and playing to Wright’s ego. Wright wrote back a short response agreeing to work with the couple.

Frank Lloyd Wright proposed the design at 1,800 square feet for a cost of $12,000. Loren had only $5,500, so they compromised to a 1,200 square foot home for $7,500. It was completed in 1940 on Locust Street in Falls Church, VA, and in 1941, Loren and Charlotte Pope moved in. But by 1946 the Popes had three children and were outgrowing the house and sold it to Robert and Marjorie Leighey for $17,000. 

“Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”

–Frank Lloyd Wright

In 1961, the Leigheys heard rumors that Interstate 66 would be built where their house stood. They pushed off the issue, as they were dealing with the illness that took Robert’s life in 1963. Two months after his death, the Virginia Department of Highways sent an official notice that the Interstate would indeed pass through their living room. As it could be seized by eminent domain, there was nothing Marjorie could do to save her home…or could she?

She reached out to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Department of the Interior, and didn’t give up. In the end, all parties agreed to move the house, and it was assigned to the National Trust. In 1965, it was dismantled and moved 13 miles to Alexandria, VA near Woodlawn, another National Trust historic site. Interestingly, the same man who constructed the original home aided in its reconstruction on the new site. Marjorie Leighey moved back into the house in 1969, where she remained until her death.


Wright’s son John Lloyd Wright invented Lincoln Logs

At the time of its acceptance by the National Trust, the house was just 23 years old, far short of the 50 years usually giving a building a historic designation. Seven years later, it was listed on the National Register. It is open seasonally for public tours and private events.

The Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey house is constructed from Carolina red cypress and is instantly recognizable as a Frank Lloyd Wright design, with its emphasis on horizontal lines, cantilevers, and minimalistic function. The clerestory windows, with their abstract design, serve multiple purposes: light, decoration, and ventilation. Visitors will notice that there are no pictures on the walls, no trim, no gutters, and only the scarcest of furnishings. This was all part of Wright’s design—making the house the art form.

Although the home may look small from the outside, the high ceiling, use of light, and minimal furnishings create an expansive feeling once you enter. Many of the furniture pieces were also designed by Wright.


Frank Lloyd Wright coined the word “carport”

Fallingwater & Kentuck Knob


The Kaufmann family, owners of Pittsburgh’s largest department store, commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build Fallingwater in 1935 in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands as a vacation house. It became instantly famous for its dramatic design rising above a waterfall.

Local craftsmen quarried the nearby native sandstone and other materials found on the property, and completed the house in 1938. In 1963, Edgar Kaufmann Jr. donated and entrusted Fallingwater and its surrounding 469 acres to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Today, it is open to the public. 

On July 10, 2019, UNESCO added Fallingwater and seven other Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings to its World Heritage List. In addition, Fallingwater is designated as a National Historical Landmark and named the “best all-time work of American architecture” by the American Institute of Architects. It is the only major Wright work to come into public domain with its setting, artwork and original Wright-designed furnishings intact. 

Fallingwater offers virtual experiences like free webinars and a weekly live broadcast series called “A Closer Look” that offers privileged access to spaces, object and stories not included on the architectural tours.

“Space is the breath of art.”

–Frank Lloyd Wright

Kentuck Knob

A lesser-known Frank Lloyd Wright house, located just six miles from Fallingwater, is Kentuck Knob, a Usonian home designed on a hexagonal module both dramatic and serene. Situated just below the crest of a hill with a spectacular vista, the home appears almost as part of the mountain itself. Like Fallingwater, it is also created from sandstone and tidewater red cypress.

Kentuck Knob is currently owned by Peter and Hayat Palumbo, who visited and fell in love with it in 1985. They bought it six weeks later and have spent time in the home every year since. The couple filled the home and grounds with their art collection and artifacts from around the world. Be sure to walk the grounds to view the 30 remarkable sculptures placed around the house and along the Woodland Walking Trail.

Usonian Design

Usonian refers to the middle-income houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, beginning in 1937. They are typically small, single-story homes characterized by native materials, flat roofs, cantilevered overhangs for passive solar heating and natural cooling, natural lighting with clerestory windows, and radiant-floor heating. Rear, or private sides of the home are generally open to the outside to create a strong visual connection between interior and exterior spaces. The word “Usonia” represents the phrase “United States of North America.”


Only 7 Frank Lloyd Wright homes in the world offer overnight stays

Stay Overnight in a Frank Lloyd Wright House

Wright’s legacy lives on in the Mäntylä house located in Acme, Pennsylvania, a short drive from Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. The name Mäntylä means “of the pines,” and this home was designed in 1952 for the R. W. Lindholm family in Cloquet, Minnesota. It was on the market for many years and in danger of demolition due to encroaching development when the owners donated the home and all of its original furnishings to the Usonian Preservation, Inc., a non-profit associated with Polymath Park, in the hope it would find a new life.

Polymath Park is an architectural park tucked away in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, and Wright fans can tour and stay overnight in two of his designs: Mäntylä and the Duncan House, as well as in two houses—Blum House and Balter House—designed by Wright’s apprentice, Peter Berndtson. This is known as the “Wright Collection.” Reservations can be made at www.franklloydwrightovernight.net/.

Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House


Kentuck Knob

Polymath Park Overnight Stays

All Photos credit: Linda Barrett

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