Gordon House — one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last Usonian houses

Gordon-House-bathroom

Photo by Efrain Diaz-Homa

historic-houseWell howdy do — Frank Lloyd Wright houses came with pink bathrooms, too. And just wait until you see the vintage 1964 Formica kitchen counter tops in Brady Bunch bittersweet orange  Proof yet again — that the most hi-falutin’ architect-designed homes and the most modest ones shared many common elements once inside. The Gordon House – located in Silverton, Oregon — is considered a lovely example of a Frank Lloyd Wright “Usonian” house — and it’s one of the last ones ever commissioned. Let’s take a closer look…

Gordon-House-back-yard

Photo by Efrain Diaz-Homa

I found the best write-up on The Gordon House on The Oregon Encyclopedia. It explained:

  • The house was designed in 1957 — commissioned by farmers Conrad and Evelyn Gordon for their remote property along the Willamette River about 20 miles from Portland.
  • The house was not built until 1964. It is the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Oregon.
  • In 2000, new owners of the property were planning to tear down the house, which had fallen into decay. A well-publicized campaign was launched, and the house was moved to its present location in Silverton, Oregon, where it is now part of The Oregon Garden complex. The Oregon Garden isan 80-acre botanical garden, featuring more than 20 specialty gardens showcasing the diverse botanical beauty that can be found in the Willamette Valley and throughout the Pacific Northwest.”
  • The Gordon House was added to the National Historic Register in 2004.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Houses

Moreover, the Gordon House is considered a prototypical “Usonian” house. On Wikipedia, it says that this house was one of the last Usonian houses commissioned.

“USONA” was Frank Lloyd Wright’s acronym for United States of North America. Usonian houses were his vision for low-cost housing for the masses — he began work on the concept in the 1930s. You will recall that just yesterday, we wrote about Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House – Bucky’s vision for low-cost housing for the masses. Seems like all the big brains were contemplating this topic. Note: Seems to me that in the end, we ended up with variations on my heartthrob Royal Barry Will’s Cape Cod – albeit more and more “ranchified” especially as you moved to the west. Sometimes the easiest solution is the most practical solution… Also, I think that Americans are simply very conservative about the houses they want to invest in — the traditional Colonial is still the prototype for “The American Dream House” and the Royal Barry Wills Cape Cod is a Colonial variant. Architectural critics may turn down their noses. But what if smarty had a party and no one came to smarty’s party?

Anyway, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses all had a relatively small footprint… they were built on a T-plan… and shared certain concepts like lots of built-in storage and thick slab concrete floors with radiant heat underneath.

The Gordon House has 2,133 s.f. of floor space, according to Wikipedia.

Gordon-House-Detail

Photo by Efrain Diaz-Homa

Another feature of this house — and of all Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian houses (if I am reading the research correctly) — is the “fretwork” window screens used throughout the house, shown above. Each FLW Usonian house received a unique design. The screens are strategically located on windows to block the high sun of the summer. There is no known meaning to the designs, although it’s believed they reference FLW’s love of Japanese woodblock prints.

Gordon-House-Exterior

Photo by Efrain Diaz-Homa

This house is built of concrete block and cedar.

Gordon-house-interior

Photo by Efrain Diaz-Homa

Lots of built-ins, to maximize living space and make the house easier to clean.

Gordon-House-kitchen-counters

Formica counter tops from 1964. Photo courtesy of The Gordon House.

Here are the orange Formica counter tops we promised. I am pretty sure I spy a vintage Revco refrigerator peeking into the photo at the left – see this story showing a Revco fridge, confirmed in the wild.

And apparently (again, if I am reading the writeups correctly), the ceiling in the kitchen is two stories high. I don’t know if I like that particular FLW idea. High ceilings are less cozy, and I think I think a kitchen should be cozy. Also, I think it would feel like there is more opportunity for dust to be flying around up there and falling into my food… It must be something to see, though…

Gordon-House-kitchen-counters

Formica counter tops from 1964. Photo courtesy of The Gordon House.

Can anyone identify the built-in oven (with warming drawer underneath??), the stove top — with cover!… and dishwasher? This is a lovely, no-nonsense kitchen. Very nice.

Gordon-House-windows

Photo by Efrain Diaz-Homa

The fretwork is so pretty and sparkly-like with the light streaming in… Also notice the square recessed can lighting. We have done research indicating where you can still get square recessed can lighting today.

Gordon-house

Photo by Efrain Diaz-Homa


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Comments

  1. says

    I read about a Usonian house (actually a cluster of 4 attached houses, with T shaped party walls, not in a row) somewhere in the Philly suburbs with a 2 story bathroom. The owners said he had to provide ventilation so he did that to allow for a skylight. The owners took away the double height ceiling to add a second bathroom upstairs. This probably has nothing to do with the double height kitchen, but sounds like these houses shared similar quirks.

  2. Sarah g (roundhouse) says

    I’m so glad this beauty was saved and not torn down! It’s so amazing that we are able to move whole houses, it’s interesting work to watch being done.

  3. Patty says

    I think the high ceiling was necessary to add natural light to the kitchen. It looks like it would be cozy. I don’t think the Kraus house in St. Louis has traditional windows and it’s super cozy. The guide said when the replaced something (can’t remember what) it had to come in through the kitchen’s skylight.

  4. JKM says

    The high ceiling in the kitchen probably had something to do with ventilation and natural lighting. FLW buildings are well-known for having notoriously low ceilings so this makes me think it served a specific purpose. Note how the surrounding cove at the top of the cabinets visually brings down the room’s height to a human scale – something he was a master at doing.

    • Patty says

      An architect attributed the ceiling height to FLW’s own height.FLW was short and had a big ego. Thought he was the perfect height.

      My architect friend was also a friend of the Mr. Kraus.

  5. Kate H says

    Kentuck Knob in Pa has a double-height ceiling and a fold-out stove. I found the kitchen to be claustrophobic even then — it’s pretty cramped, and the high ceiling might make it really loud during food preparation, not to mention hot. I think it was this house (or maybe the one in Va or Falling Water) that also had cork bathrooms. As in: instead of tile, he used waxed cork. The docents didn’t know how well this would hold up, as compared to tile, but as you can imagine, they made for a very subdued bathroom, but quiet! I imagine it would be a nice place to take a bath.

  6. says

    I just visited this house about a month ago on a trip to Portland. It was even more impressive in person! Plus, it’s located on the lovely grounds of the Oregon Gardens which are an oasis of floral design.

    To answer your question about the stove, it is a Jenn-Air. I took a close-up photo of it here: https://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/293894_10200689597754313_685453325_n.jpg I also want to confirm that the kitchen is indeed cozy, despite the two-story high ceiling. It’s a small space, and the ceiling height actually opens up the room because it lets natural light in with a skylight (this is the only window). Feel free to browse my photos to see other angles of the room and tour the house.

      • Jay says

        Late to the game. I was going to say probably a skylight above as it’s the case with Kentuck Knob. FLW liked to juxtapose ceiling heights. Enter a low ceiling vestibule before entering a high ceiling great room, etc. He tended to put utilitarian spaces – kitchens and baths on the interiors of houses to save window walls for the living areas so the natural light would have to come from above.

  7. Janet A. says

    Note the countertop edge detail angling out instead of the now standard square edge. Great look but looks a bit fragile.

  8. LauraRG says

    Lovely! I lived in Madison WI when I was in my 20’s. My husband had some friends from the Netherlands come visit who happened to be architecture students. They were very eager to see Madison’s FLW homes so we got ourselves a brochure and drove around to see them all. There is a cluster of them along one of Madison’s lakes and most had gated driveways. We peeked at them, knocked on the doors of the ones we could, took some photos and thoroughly enjoyed seeing them.

    We had one wonderful surprise; one of the doors we knocked on was opened by a delightful older woman was been the original owner. She was excited that architecture students wanted to see her home and gave us the grand tour. She told us she felt obligated to share her treasure with people who appreciated it. As an art student and fan of mid-century art and architecture I was thrilled to be in an FLW house “in the wild” so to speak. She and her husband really “lived” in their home. She had plants in all the windows, many of them trailing everywhere along the woodwork. The overall feel of the house was like the Gordon house featured here. There was no pretense of maintaining the house as if it were a museum. (she pooh-poohed her neighbors who did!) She hadn’t destroyed or remodeled any of the features, but she and her husband did have plenty of comfortable furniture. There was children’s artwork (grandchildren I supposed) and kitschy little souvenirs and mementos all over. She spoke of how convenient the house was to live in, how there was just enough storage for her things, but not so much that she accumulated too much! She loved the built-ins, the benches and cabinets. They were very handy for entertaining. The one drawback was the flat roof, but that’s always a problem.

    I have since toured several FLW museum homes, sacred and commercial buildings, but none of them hold the memories that this one does. Thanks so much for posting this and bringing back this wonderful memory for me!

    • Jay says

      WoW! Great story! I have to admire your grit at knocking on the door. I would never think of doing that. How nice you were invited in to see the house. Not so sure FLW would approve of the “real living” going on in one of his houses. I read he was dictatorial when it came to furnishing his interior spaces. He sparred with clients about decoration.

      • LauraRG says

        I have also heard he was pretty particular about how his houses were furnished. He had been dead almost 30 years by the time I visited that house; I doubt he would have had much to say about how they lived in it!!

  9. Wendy M. says

    I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I live less than an hour from Silverton and I still haven’t been to tour this FLW house! I must make it a priority this summer. Thanks for the reminder (and the very informational story.)
    (FYI- if you do visit, make time to also go to nearby Silver Falls State Park…10 beautiful waterfalls on an approximately five-mile hiking trail- well worth the trip and one of my favorite waterfall hikes.)

  10. Jay says

    FLW was placed on the sidelines by modern architecture critics. He was not considered mainstream but his work is here to stay. You have to admire his creativity that sprang forth to envision all of his buildings before the advent of computers to design structures.

  11. Sara says

    Wow, I am adding this to my list of places to visit! I absolutely love the fretwork screens. The edges of the orange Formica countertops look interesting. It looks like they angle out a bit, but have a sharp edge between the top and the side instead of a curve. I don’t recall seeing this on any of the laminate catalogs you’ve featured here on the blog. The orange color is fantabulous!

    • Sara says

      Oh, my browser hadn’t refreshed…I see someone else already commented on the countertop edge. Oh well, it’s pretty cool…deserves a second comment I guess :-)

  12. says

    There’s oodles of FLW houses in WI. There’s a restoration project underway of one of six American System houses in Milwaukee that you can occasionally tour. Granted they are not MCM but still, for 1915, they were pretty forward thinking.

  13. Kelly Wittenauer says

    I’ve read a great deal about FLLWs Usonians, as well as having visited several. Wish this one wasn’t so far away, as it appears to be a real beauty. He nearly always used a higher ceiling in these kitchens. Very few homes had AC – his thinking was that the high ceiling there would act as a chimney to exhaust heat & cooking fumes through clerestory windows. Many, but not all, Usonians used the fretwork window panels. Often the design would be either an abstraction of the floor plan or a natural form, perhaps the owners favorite flower or a feature of the site. For those wishing to learn more I highly recommend Wright’s book “The Natural house”, “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Houses” by John Sergeant and “Building With Frank Lloyd Wright” by Herbert & Katharine Jacobs who commissioned the first Usonian to be built.

    • Steve says

      It seems the Wikipedia article is full of errors, so I also highly recommend the Sergeant book for a thorough description of the design and history of FLW’s Usonian homes. The Gordon house is a very late design (not a prototype), and it is modest in terms of size and materials — mostly concrete block and plywood, as I recall. It was a working farm house, and it shows. But what it lacks in refinement is more than compensated in design. The drama of moving through the spaces — especially from the entry into the livingroom and up the stairs — is exquisite.
      Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Houses: Designs for Moderate Cost One-Family Homes
      *pam added affiliate link

      • pam kueber says

        Good point. I think we also will ask the Gordon House folks if they can correct my story as needed. The dangers of the Wiki…. point taken.

      • pam kueber says

        I am now a proud owner of one of these books. Wow, spendy — but I got one used at a great price. Thanks for the tip, Steve, I look forward to reading this. I am continuing work on my PhD in Retro Renovation!

  14. Janeen says

    I’ve never posted before but do visit all the time. I’m taking a quick break from a very busy work day to confirm that the Fallingwater bathrooms have cork surfaces, and at Kentuck Knob– a mid 50s Usonian– the bathroom surfaces are like the one pictured above. Cool fact: Kenuck Knob also has a similar stove top to the one pictured here, which cannot only be folded out of sight, but also unplugged and moved to another location (i.e. the patio) for cooking there. Can you find that in any of your vintage catalogs, Pam?

    • pam kueber says

      Thanks for that info, Janeen, and welcome to commenting! We will be doing a story on Kentuck Knob — we’ll specifically ask for bathroom pics! There seems to be a little controversy goin’ on whether FLW would have allowed pink bathroom tile.

      • Janeen says

        I’m pretty sure they are mauve. Then again, FLW only visited the site a few times, and the original owners of the house pushed his buttons during the design and building phases. I’ll leave it to your story to divulge the details.

      • says

        So somewhat random story about Kentuck Knob – I used to work for a dairy company, Crowley Foods, in our corporate office in Binghamton, NY, in the IT department. In the dairy business companies consolidate by buying smaller regional or family-owned milk processors and moving their production (since milk consumption is declining) to their remaining plants.

        In the 1980s, Crowley bought the Hagan Ice Cream company, which was based in Uniontown, PA (Pittsburgh suburb, near Fallingwater.) The plant had long ago been closed but we still produced and sold Hagan ice cream and had a regional sales office, so at one point I went, for work, to that office and while there went to visit Fallingwater. At Fallingwater, I learned of Kentuck Knob so I headed that way as well (they are only a few miles apart.)

        Turns out Kentuck Knob was built by one I.N. Hagan – as in the people that owned the Hagan Dairy (ice cream) business. They were friends with the Kaufmann’s who built Fallingwater, so they later commissioned FLW to construct a Usonian house for them in the 1950s. I struck up a conversation with the staff there about the connection and they were so excited that they had me contact the local sales manager so they could source Hagan Ice Cream for their gift and snack shop.

        I haven’t been there since that visit (circa 2004) but I am curious if they are still selling Hagan ice cream. :)

        • Kate says

          What a great story Doug! I’ve been to Fallingwater too…can’t remember the year, but I think it was a tad before 2004…maybe 2001. I used to live in Northwestern PA and Mom and I took a trip south to Fallingwater, but we had no idea about Kentuck Knob and therefore missed out on that experience (darn!) — but we did go to the Ikea in Pittsburgh on the way home! :)

        • Janeen says

          Yes, Doug, the gift shop still sells Hagan ice cream!

          (I first visited Kentuck Knob in the 80s when a high school classmate was a groundskeeper for Mrs. Hagan. As someone fond of both Hagan ice cream and FLW architecture, it was amazing!)

  15. says

    Both the kitchen’s Chinese Red Micarta plastic laminate, and the pink ceramic tiles were fairly standard specifications for usonian houses. I have seen both in quite a few Usonian homes, and have some original Wright specification booklets, and those two items are common. The third Mrs. Wright sort of fancied herself a color expert, so there is some thoughts that she could have been responsible for favoring the tile color. The Wright house I used to live in did indeed have the pink bathrooms, but not the chinese red Micarta. The Wright apprentice designed home we now live in also has the original chinese red plastic laminate, which I have posted on here a while ago.

  16. Kelly Wittenauer says

    Wow! Melissa & Kevin – you are both very fortunate to live in the beauty of Usonian homes.

  17. Pat Wieneke says

    FLW used to say that if you were over 5’10”, you were a weed and should be flattened with a farm implement. He usually went for low ceilings and then higher ones for the light and air. Are there windows above the cabinets in the kitchen? Clear story windows, especially on the north, were a favorite of his from what I have read.

  18. says

    I’m going to be the dissenter here: Having visited the Gordon House several times, and as much of a fan of the Usonian Houses as I am, I would still characterize the kitchen as dark and small, rather than cozy. The photos of the kitchen furnished by the Gordon House must have had additional lighting used, because in broad daylight, with all the lights on, that kitchen was dark. It always struck me that that kitchen was not designed by a cook – clearly FLW was not!

    That said, the house is an architectural gem, and definitely worth the visit. If you’re lucky, you can get on a tour and see the upstairs, too.

  19. Rick S says

    Pam,
    I am a FLW fan and live near and work in Madison WI where there are many homes designed by him.
    I was itrigued by the Seth Peterson house built by Devil’s Lake. It has been restored and you can rent the place to stay if your in the area. You can even reserve a night in the winter.

    http://www.sethpeterson.org/about_reservations.html

    Another house you can rent is the Swartz house in Two Rivers WI

    http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/entertainment/118262339.html

    Wisconsin is FLW central.

    rick

  20. says

    Hi Pam–
    Not sure how I missed this when it first published, but we just visited the Gordon House and wrote about it on our own blog. (http://bit.ly/14D0YGU) We included lots of photos of details from the house, which we thought was amazing. We’re generally not fans of low ceilings, but the rooms with them didn’t feel cramped to us at all. We were told that the formica in the kitchen isn’t actually the original formica, but it’s close to the original color.

    We’re so glad this place was saved. It was almost destroyed by its last buyers, who wanted to tear it down to build their own home on its original lot. Can you imagine?!? Really love that Wright designed modest homes for middle-class Americans.

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