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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

Link love:

mid century house museums

See The Gordon House our epic list of 59 mid-century & modern historic house museums you can visit

  1. 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. 🙂

  2. 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! 🙂

  3. 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

  4. Trouble says:

    Nice. Never knew about that but will soon. I work just down the street from Worthington and will be there tomorrow to check it out!

  5. Trouble says:

    I know this is a little worn out now, but I found a Youtube link to one of the homes in the Rush Creek development here in Columbus.

  6. 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!)

  7. We recently toured this house, and the guide told us that the high kitchen ceiling was designed for functional reasons–so that heat and odors would rise above the “work room.” Wright didn’t like the word “kitchen.”

  8. 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.

  9. MIke Henson says:

    FLW was indeed not a cook. But to understand his attitude towards kitchens, all you have to do is look at what he called them in plans:
    “Work Space”.
    You see, from his perspective ( which was from his childhood in the 1800’s) kitchens were generally small, and often away from the house. It wasn’t a place were people congregated at all. They were sparse and usually consisted of a “Hoosier cabinet”, cook stove, a work table, and a freestanding cabinet to store canned goods.
    And generally speaking, men seldom frequented that room.
    In my opinion, for all his ability to for see the future of how we as a society would live, he never considered the kitchen would become the hub of entertaining and congregating that it now has.

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