The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.
Share this review on
Dana Thomas House, 301 East Lawrence Ave Springfield,Illinois http://www.dana-thomas.org/
ADDING YET ANOTHER SIGHT TO SEE We spent a very full –on day sight seeing in Springfield the sleepy state capital city of Illinois. We specifically added this city to our itinerary in order to explore the Lincoln sight but when we read about this Frank Lloyd Wright ( to save my fingers FLW in the rest of this review) designed house within our walking ( running or galloping mostly) tour of the city we walked round to see whether we could see it.
We had just left Chicago and NOT been to see Oak Park which was just outside Chicago as we were not sure how easy it was to do without a car. Incidentally we did visit on our way back to the airport and it could be done by train as it is walk able from the station but we were not sure. So thinking we had missed out on seeing a FLW designed house we went to see this.
PRICES, TIMES AND MORE Initially we were just hoping to take a few photos from the outside but I went round the back to where the entrance was and we learned that it was not only open but that entry was free for a suggested donation.
The house is owned and preserved by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and hence the donation request though I would have thought they would have done better fixing a price and having a donation box as well.
The office and room where you wait for your tour is right next to the gift shop which is run by the Dana-Thomas House Foundation and sold some VERY expensive items. If you would like to see some examples look at www.sumacshop.com. Sumac is a Midwestern grass which is depicted in many of FLW’s designs especially in this property.
The house is closed on Mondays, Tuesdays and major holidays so we were very lucky to get there on a day that they were open. We walked but there is a free car park next to the house accessed from Cook Street.
OUR VISIT We started in a small room with a film about FLW and Susan Dana-Thomas and how the house came to be. This was not only educational an interesting but also prepared you for things to look for when touring the house.
The actual tour lasted about an hour and the guide was a volunteer and very knowledgeable.
SUSAN DANA-THOMAS This lady was not only very wealthy but was also a socialite and someone interested in being original. At the time FLW designed the house she was Susan Lawrence-Dana. She had been widowed in 1900 and then she inherited her father’s wealth in 1902 and was keen to show Springfield that she was not only wealthy but original and creative too. She decided to modernise the family home and looked around for an architect to help her. At this stage FLW was a young and up and coming architect and she allowed him free rein to create this amazing home.
FLW not only designed the house but also the decor and furnishings and was quite controlling in this way. The exact way he designed it was how it was going to be even to the exact positioning of chairs and ornaments.
Ms Dana-Thomas lived and entertained in this house for twenty four years. In her later years she became a recluse and rather than socialising she turned to spiritualism and the occult. As her fortunes dwindled she closed the house in 1928 and moved to a small cottage next door . Sadly when she was hospitalised in the 1940s the contents of the house were sold at auction so mant items have been lost to history.
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT
FLW is considered to be America’s greatest architect of the 20th century. His style of architecture seen in the Dana-Thomas house is uniquely American and became known as the Prairie style.
FLW was destined to become an architect and when he was a child his mother encouraged him by selecting construction toys and putting blue prints on his bedroom walls. It certainly makes a change from Beatrix Potter, Disney or Pooh prints I suppose.
In 1893 he started his own business in Oak Park. In 1911 he moved to Wisconsin and started a school of architecture. When he died in 1959 he had designed over 1,100 projects which is pretty amazing for one person.
BACK TO THE HOUSE When FLW finished the house in 1904 it was the largest residence he had built and it had cost $60,000. It has a massive thirty five rooms on three main floors and covers a huge 12,000 square feet of living space. Although there are three main floors we spent a lot of time going up and down stairs and in fact there are sixteen different levels within the house.
We were taken around the outside to see how the design allowed for privacy and natural cooling inside with windows that you could not see into from outside and over hanging roof ledges. The windows looked really darkened from outside but the sumac design was still evident and reminded me of Charles Rennie Mackintosh to a degree. His designs were simple and geometric and taken from nature. Each house had its own pattern which was repeated throughout the house. This house had the sumac or local grass which looked a bit like a wheat stalk.
The house was a typical Prairie style house with how horizontal roof lines, continuous bands of windows giving light inside but somehow allowing privacy from outside. There were also wide over hanging eaves which kept the house cooler and inside the house had the typical open plan style.
We entered the house through the front door and into the hall as Susan D-T ‘s guest would have come in. Their coats would have been taken by servants and then they would come into the house and the reception area.
The fireplace here had a Welsh prayer above the inglenook and this is a tribute to FLW’s We;sh heritage. This is something headed in various rooms just to pay homage to his Welsh roots on his mother’s side.
Inside the house was actually quite dark in places as there was a lot of dark wood on the floors and walls as well. Although the house was open plan there were lots of stairs and corridors which took us on a winding route through the house.
The sort of veranda above the main room was where the band sat to play while Susan D-T entertained her guests. This part of the house was a bit like a theatre designed to entertain the guests.
The dining room had a specially designed table which looked a decent size as it was but could be extended to seat even more by adding extra leaves. This room had three walls of windows which was part of FLW’s idea to expand outwards and to bring outside in.
Within this house alone FLW designed around four hundred and fifty beautiful art glass windows, skylights, door panels, sconces, and light fixtures for the house, most of which survive and many featured the same sumac design while others had a stylised butterfly design.
We seemed to go up and down and round quite a bit and every single room had some feature or story to go with it. The guide was great and told us little anecdotes to go with some of the furnishings and statues etc. In one room there was a fountain with a statue. There really was a lot to see and take in so I cannot possible remember room by room.
I was quite taken by the library in one of the lower levels which had some specially designed easels which FLW created for Susan D-T to show off her prized collection of Japanese prints. These easels were only some of the many free-standing FLW designed white oak furnishings in the house.
The house also had a bowling or skittle alley in the basement and in this area was where the guest cloakroom was houses and also the guest bathrooms.
This was a very special house and I just wish we had been allowed to take photos inside the house but it was forbidden. The guide told us so much that it was difficult to retain all that we saw and heard. However I was amazed and absolutely wowed by the inside of the house. From the outside it looked fairly ordinary but once inside it was like a tardis of secrets. Every room had something special to see and it was like no other house I had ever been in. Staley homes in the UK have classical or antique furnishings while this was sort of modern but in an art deco sort of style uniquely FLW.
If you happen to be in Springfield Illinois then take a break from looking at all the Lincoln sights and go and visit this unique house designed by America’s greatest architect of the twentieth century.