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Returning to Oak Park: Ernest Hemingway’s Birthplace Museum

In the vibrant Chicago suburb of Oak Park, a stone’s throw from the city and not far west from our very own Optima Signature®, sits a landmark of immense literary significance. It’s the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum, an exquisite Victorian home that offers a unique window into the early life of one of America’s most iconic and influential writers, born in 1899. It stands as a testament to the formative years of a writer whose unique style revolutionized 20th-century literature.

The Hemingway Birthplace Museum is not just about the physical space that Hemingway inhabited; it’s also about the ideas and experiences that shaped his work. The Museum brings his Oak Park influences to light, providing context for many of the themes that would later appear in his work.

Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum Interior

When you step outside the Museum into the broader community, you’ll encounter the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, another example of the ways in which Oak Park preserves and celebrates its literary heritage. 

Ernest Hemingway’s Birthplace Museum is a splendid representation of the early influences that shaped a literary giant. Its interior spaces immerse you in visual reflections of the beginnings of the writer’s adventurous life, offering a deeper understanding of his work and the man himself. In celebrating Hemingway’s legacy, we are reminded of the timeless power of creativity and the lasting impact of well-crafted design. 

Frank Lloyd Wright Home And Studio. Photo: Teemu008

Guided tours of the museum provide visitors with a chance to step back in time and immerse themselves in the ambiance of Hemingway’s childhood. From the bedroom where he was born to the parlors where he might have first spun his tales, every corner of the house offers a unique glimpse into his early life and influences.

Returning to Oak Park: The Wright House

When we think of groundbreaking architectural marvels that have shaped modern architecture, one name invariably stands out and is someone we’ve covered before — Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright’s innovative designs and his unique ability to harmonize architecture with its natural surroundings has left an indelible imprint on our architectural landscape. Optima® is always delighted to spotlight such inspirational landmarks, and as a result, today we turn our attention to a home that was both his creative laboratory and personal residence, the illustrious Wright House in Oak Park.

Just a few miles west from Optima Signature® in the tranquil, leafy Oak Park neighborhood, the Wright House stands as a living testament to Wright’s architectural prowess and visionary genius. Built in 1889 and later expanded in 1895, the Wright House is where the iconic architect began to hone his distinct Prairie Style — an architectural movement characterized by horizontal lines, flat roofs, and structures that seemed to blend seamlessly with their surroundings.

The exterior of the Wright House is deceivingly simple, a classic embodiment of Wright’s “form follows function” ethos. But it is in the heart of the house, in its interiors, where Wright’s architectural brilliance truly unfolds. The interior spaces exhibit an open floor plan, a then-revolutionary concept that challenged the compartmentalized Victorian architecture norms of the era.

Wright playroom. Photo: Tess Panfil

A walk through the home reveals rooms with geometric patterns, intricate woodwork, and natural materials — a signature of Wright’s style. Spaces flow seamlessly into one another, bounded not by walls, but by subtle changes in design and level. One of the house’s most stunning features is the playroom, added during the 1895 expansion. A capacious, light-filled room with vaulted ceilings and a central fireplace, the playroom perfectly illustrates Wright’s ability to design spaces that both foster intimacy and embrace community.

The Wright House is not merely a house; it is a dynamic portrait of Wright’s evolving style and an architectural time capsule preserving the genesis of the Prairie Style that Wright would later perfect. For the 20 years that Wright resided there, it was an experimental platform for his pioneering ideas, and an enduring beacon of his design principles.

As we continue to celebrate the architectural wonders that enrich our world, we’re thrilled to honor the Wright House in Oak Park — a jewel in the crown of American architecture. It stands as a symbol of Wright’s legacy, a shrine to the ideals of organic architecture, and a monument to the innovative spirit that fuels progress. 

The Arthur B. Heurtley House: A Testament to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Design Evolution

Just a few miles west from Optima Signature®, in the heart of Oak Park, sits a quiet, residential gem that stands as yet another testament to the genius of America’s most iconic architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. This architectural marvel, the Arthur Heurtley House, isn’t just a house, but an embodiment of Wright’s early Prairie School style that continues to endure as a remarkable example of design innovation and integrity.

Constructed in 1902 during a transformative epoch in Wright’s illustrious career, the Heurtley House is an expression of Wright’s creative evolution. The robust brick structure and distinct horizontal orientation lay over the landscape seamlessly, epitomizing Wright’s commitment to designing in sympathy with nature – a signature of his design philosophy.

Arthur B. Heurtley House Floor Plan

Look closer, and the house’s intricate design elements come into sharp focus. The low-pitched hip roof with deep overhangs, the bands of art glass windows, and the central chimney mass all contribute to an emphasis on the home’s horizontality while offering an elegant vertical counterpoint. The material palette – a medley of Roman brick, limestone, and plaster – not only reinforces the building’s robust character but also harmonizes the house with its environment, establishing continuity that is both visually striking and inviting.

Inside, the Heurtley House continues to narrate the story of Wright’s architectural vision. The choice of natural materials, from the art glass windows to wooden trims and panels, exudes a warm, homey charm. The open floor plan, a distinctive characteristic of Wright’s Prairie style, allows a free flow of space and the dining room has a vaulted, wood banded ceiling with a prow shaped bay of art glass and a ribbon of leaded windows facing west, seamlessly inviting a flood of natural light.

Living Room, Arthur B. Heurtley House. Photo: James Caulfield

The interior furnishings, custom-designed by Wright as part of the home’s construction, ensure a consistent aesthetic narrative throughout the house. This meticulously detailed approach, down to the furniture, reveals Wright’s relentless pursuit of architectural harmony and holistic design.

Over a century later, the Arthur Heurtley House continues to shine as a beacon of architectural brilliance and its presence — a tribute to Wright’s vision and the timeless beauty of his Prairie style. As always, we take immense delight in celebrating these iconic modernist structures. They not only enrich our architectural landscape but also provide a rich source of inspiration for our own commitment to design, innovation, and community.

Phoenix Architecture Spotlight: The David and Gladys Wright House

At Optima®, we have an unending fascination for architectural masterpieces, especially those that have shaped and defined the Modernist movement. Today, our focus rests upon an extraordinary residence, the David and Gladys Wright House, designed by none other than the father of architecture himself, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Located in Phoenix, Arizona, this house stands out as one of Wright’s most innovative residential designs. Constructed in 1952 for his son David and daughter-in-law Gladys, this home reveals the intimate connection Wright shared with his family, articulated in his distinctive architectural language.

Crafted towards the end of his prolific career, the David and Gladys Wright House reflects Wright’s refined understanding of organic architecture and his remarkable ability to adapt to the character of the site. The house, built with native concrete blocks, rises in a spiral form from the desert landscape, its curvilinear design echoing the shape of the nearby mountains.

David and Gladys Wright House, Photo: Andrew Pielage

The unique spiraling form of the house is a significant departure from the typical linear construction seen in many of Wright’s works, and it manifests his deep reverence for the natural world. The spiraling design ascends gracefully from the ground, turning 360 degrees to provide panoramic views of Camelback Mountain and the surrounding landscape.

Inside, Wright’s naturalistic design philosophy continues — the interior floor plan unfolds like a nautilus shell, with rooms radiating from the central hearth, embodying the hearth’s symbolic role as the heart of the home. The characteristics Wright touches—built-in furniture, extensive use of natural light, and harmonious color palettes—are in full swing here, creating a seamless dialogue between the exterior and interior spaces.

David and Gladys Wright House interior

Notable, too, is the home’s thoughtful integration of modern technology for its time. It was designed with innovative features such as energy-efficient passive solar heating, natural cooling, and a functional, open kitchen that was ahead of its time.

Despite facing threats of demolition, the house has been preserved thanks to the concerted efforts of preservationists, historians, and fans of Wright’s work. Today, the David and Gladys Wright House stands as a testimony to Wright’s genius and his enduring influence on Modernist architecture.

At Optima®, we’re continually captivated by such Modernist masterpieces that speak volumes about the era’s architectural ethos. Frank Lloyd Wright’s David and Gladys Wright House, with its distinctive design blending built form and natural environment, remains a profound source of inspiration and a vivid embodiment of Wright’s creative brilliance. 

John Lautner’s Journey Through Space and Form

At Optima®, we are always delighted to showcase the works of Modernist architects who have made waves in the field. One such architect, whose innovative designs and extraordinary imagination have left a lasting impression, is John Lautner. Today, we’ll explore the unique characteristics of Lautner’s architectural style, highlighting his inspirations and the significance of his contributions to the field.

John Lautner (1911-1994), born in Marquette, MI, had a distinctive style that was shaped by his early apprenticeship under the legendary Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as by his own profound interest in engineering, organic architecture, and the natural world. Lautner’s designs are characterized by their seamless integration with the environment, imaginative use of materials, and bold, sculptural forms.

One of the fundamental aspects of Lautner’s architectural style was his ability to harmoniously blend his structures with their surrounding landscape. Drawing inspiration from Wright’s organic architecture principles, Lautner believed that buildings should not only respect their natural environment but also enhance it. His designs often feature extensive use of glass, allowing for unobstructed views and creating a synchronicity between the interior and exterior spaces.

His fascination with engineering and materiality allowed him to push the boundaries of conventional architectural design. He frequently employed innovative construction techniques, such as the use of cantilevers, to create seemingly gravity-defying spaces. Additionally, Lautner’s designs often incorporated a diverse range of materials, including concrete, steel, and timber, as well as experimental materials like sprayed-on concrete (gunite).

Chemosphere, John Lautner. Photo: Julius Schulman © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute

One of Lautner’s most notable projects showcasing his innovative use of materials is the Chemosphere (1960), a futuristic octagonal house perched atop a single concrete column in the Hollywood Hills. The house appears to float above the landscape, demonstrating Lautner’s ability to create a sense of weightlessness and otherworldly charm.

Lautner’s architectural style is characterized by a sense of spatial fluidity, as he sought to create open, flowing interiors that defied conventional notions of rooms and boundaries. His designs often feature sweeping curves and dramatic angles, resulting in dynamic, visually captivating spaces.

The Elrod House (1968) in Palm Springs, for example, demonstrates Lautner’s mastery of spatial fluidity. With its iconic conical roof and open-plan living spaces, the house appears to grow organically from the rocky landscape. This seamless connection between interior and exterior spaces is further emphasized by the use of retractable glass walls, which allow the residents to fully experience the surrounding desert environment. Also, did we mention that the Elrod House was featured in the 1971 James Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever?

Elrod House, John Lautner. Photo : Nelson-Moe Group

While Lautner’s architectural style was undoubtedly influenced by his time spent working under Wright, his experiences working with other luminary architects like Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler helped him shape a unique vision and dedication to experimentation.

We take immense pleasure in celebrating the contributions of Modernist architects like John Lautner, whose groundbreaking designs continue to inspire and captivate. His iconic structures stand as testaments to the power of imagination and the importance of embracing the ever-evolving landscape of design.

Women in Architecture: Violeta Autumn

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re sharing the story of Violeta Autumn, whose distinguished career was committed to environmental protectionism and inclusion in the industry. Autumn’s designs earned her numerous accolades and recognition, and her work serves as an inspiration for architects today. Learn more about her life and career below.

The Life of Violeta Autumn
Violeta Autumn was born in 1930 Chiclayo, Peru to Russian Jewish immigrants and lived there until her family relocated to Oklahoma when she was 14. After graduating high school, Autumn attended the University of Oklahoma, where she studied under the legendary architect Bruce Goff and became the third woman to graduate from the school with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1953. In her future work, Autumn took inspiration from Goff’s use of organic design.

After completing her education, Autumn traveled across Europe during the summer, where she met her husband, Sanford Autumn, a psychologist. Autumn and her husband relocated to the San Francisco area after returning from Europe, and she obtained her California architect’s license soon after, in 1957.

Notable Works and Achievements
Autumn’s architectural experience began with preparing construction drawings for Harold Dow, a Palo Alto-based architect. For several years, she illustrated renderings and designed murals for other architects and authors, but in 1959 she ventured out on her own, designing and building her own home and architectural studio in Sausalito, California as a first project. As her design vocabulary evolved, she continued to draw from other architects she worked with and admired, including Frank Lloyd Wright (with whom she apprenticed) and John Lautner, who went on to have a stellar career as a modernist architect in South California.

Autumn worked with engineer Haluk Akol to translate organic architecture philosophies into the home’s vertical cliff site. The building featured exposed concrete buttresses to stabilize the unique structural system, a two-story copper hood for its fireplace and unstained redwood. After its completion in the early 1960s, the home was widely celebrated, including features in Progressive Architecture and Look magazines.

Souverain Winery, Healdsburg, California, 1974

Autumn received her U.S. citizenship in 1963 and quickly became involved in aspects of local government, from joining her local Community Appearances Advisory Board to being named commissioner of the Planning Commission and to becoming a Sausalito City Councilwoman. Much of her work in public office mirrored her philosophies in architecture. She became largely known for her strong environmental protectionism along with the redevelopment of a host of important waterfront projects in the San Francisco Bay area.

Following her career in local government, Autumn partnered with fellow University of Oklahoma architectural graduate John Marsh Davis to create Davis-Autumn & Associates. Together, the two completed a host of projects, many of which are wineries still in existence in Sonoma and Napa Valley today, including Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Rutherford Hill Winery, Sullivan Vineyards and their most acclaimed, Souverain Winery. Designed and opened in 1974, the Souverain Winery won the American Institute of Architects Bay Area Honor Award for Design Excellence.

Violeta Autumn’s contributions to the field of architecture have left an indelible mark. Her work helped pave the way for future generations of practitioners who strive to create innovative, environmentally-friendly designs that prioritize community and inclusivity.

George Frederick Keck: How A Modernist Master Shaped the Chicago Skyline

Chicago has long been a hotbed for Modernist architecture, with the likes of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Walter Gropius all calling the city home at various points in their careers. At Optima®, we are always delighted to showcase the groundbreaking work of Modernist architects who have left an indelible mark on our urban landscape. Today, we are opening the aperture to focus on George Fred Keck, an architect whose innovative designs and pioneering spirit greatly influenced the development of modern architecture in Chicago and beyond.

Born in 1895 in Watertown, Wisconsin, George Fred Keck was destined to become a trailblazer in the world of Modernist architecture. After studying at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Keck established his own firm with his brother William in 1926 — Keck & Keck. The siblings’ shared passion for Modernism and sustainability led them to create designs that were both environmentally-conscious and ahead of their time.

Keck-Gottschalk-Keck Apartments. Photo: Ryerson & Burnham Archives Archival Image Collection

Keck’s most famous work is undoubtedly the House of Tomorrow, a groundbreaking design he created for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, also known as the Century of Progress Exposition. The house showcased innovative ideas such as floor-to-ceiling glass walls, central air conditioning, and even an attached garage with an electric door opener. These cutting-edge features not only made the House of Tomorrow a sensation at the fair, but also laid the groundwork for the modern home as we know it today. 

With Keck’s commitment to sustainable design came a fascination with solar energy. In the early 1940s, he and his brother William designed the first solar-powered house in the United States. Known as the Keck-Gottschalk-Keck Apartments and located at 5551 South University Avenue in Hyde Park, this remarkable dwelling relied on south-facing windows and a solar heating system to maximize the capture and use of solar energy. This early foray into sustainable design would pave the way for future architects to embrace environmentally conscious practices.

House of Tomorrow. Photo: Chicago History Museum, Hedrich Blessing Collection

As we celebrate the life and work of George Fred Keck, we at Optima® are once again reminded of the transformative power of Modernist architecture. Keck’s innovative designs, environmental consciousness, and commitment to pushing the boundaries of architectural form have left an unforgettable mark on the city of Chicago and on the world of architecture.

Ralph Haver: The Unsung Brilliance of A Mid-Century Arizona Architect

Ralph Haver’s work may not have gained the same international recognition as his contemporaries Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, or Eero Saarinen, but there’s no mistaking his defining influence on Arizona Mid-Century Architecture.

Haver was born in Pasadena in 1915. He attended Pasadena Junior College and later studied architecture at the University of Southern California (USC) before the United States entered World War II. After a stint in the military with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, he moved to Phoenix, and started his own architectural practice. In 1945, he founded Haver, Nunn & Associates, partnering with fellow architect, Jimmie Nunn. The duo focused on designing affordable tract homes that were stylish, functional, and suited to the desert climate.

Northwood Haver Home in Phoenix. Photo: ©2016 Modern Phoenix LLC

His passion for simple, affordable, and elegant design made him an instant hit among Arizonans who were seeking a fresh architectural perspective.

While Wright’s organic architecture and luxurious designs were the talk of the town, Haver was working diligently behind the scenes. He envisioned a world where every family could live in a well-designed, modern home without breaking the bank. And thus, the “Haver Home” was born.

Haver Homes For All

Haver’s homes were designed for the average family. Their clean aesthetic and open floor plans allowed homeowners to bask in the natural beauty of Arizona while having a comfortable, stylish abode.

Marlen Grove Haver Home. Photo: ©2020 Modern Phoenix LLC

With the thousands of Haver Home designed and built, their iconic design elements included low-sloping roofs, expansive windows, and a post-and-beam construction, similar to that of another Arizona contemporary we wrote about recently, Al Beadle. These elements allowed for a seamless integration of indoor and outdoor spaces, maximizing both beauty and functionality.

Ralph Haver and his firm didn’t limit themselves to residential projects. They also designed schools, churches, and commercial buildings, leaving their mark on many aspects of Arizona’s mid-century architectural landscape. Many of their projects were concentrated in neighborhoods like Marlen Grove, Town and Country, and Windemere.

Windermere Haver Home. Photo: ©Modern Phoenix LLC

Although Ralph Haver passed away in 1997, his work continues to influence architects and homeowners, and his designs have become highly sought-after by those looking to own a piece of Arizona’s unique modernist architectural heritage. In fact, many neighborhoods throughout Phoenix and Scottsdale still boast a high concentration of Haver Homes, lovingly maintained and restored by their proud owners. These communities serve as a testament to Haver’s enduring vision of affordable, stylish living for all. At Optima®, we’re inspired by the innovative spirit of Ralph Haver and his dedication to creating beautiful, functional living spaces.

Local Wilmette Landmarks: Frank J. Baker House

Have you ever stumbled upon a remarkable architectural gem that leaves you captivated by its design and history? The Frank J. Baker House, located at 711 Lake Avenue in Wilmette, is one such marvel that deserves a spotlight for its unique charm and intriguing background, along with its significance as a National Registered Landmark. It’s such a pleasure to be able to showcase this modernist architectural wonder that’s just a stone’s throw from Optima Verdana®.

Historical Background

Constructed in 1909, the Frank J. Baker House is a prime example of the Prairie School architectural style, which flourished between the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This style was characterized by horizontal lines, overhanging eaves, and an emphasis on integrating the building with its natural surroundings. 

The house was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and commissioned by Frank J. Baker, a successful businessman with a passion for art and architecture. Throughout its history, the Baker House has undergone several renovations and restorations, all aimed at preserving its architectural integrity and adapting it to the needs of modern living. Today, the house remains a private residence, treasured by its owners, Amy and Eric Bauer. 

Connection to Wilmette Landmarks

The Frank J. Baker House is also an integral part of the rich architectural tapestry of Wilmette’s collection of landmark structures, including the Robert and Suzanne Drucker House, and Oak Circle Historic District. Together they exemplify timeless modernist architecture at its best and offer an engaging and educational experience for all design enthusiasts.

Interior of Frank J. Baker House. Photo: @Properties

Architectural Features

One of the most striking features of the Baker House is its harmonious integration with the landscape. The house boasts a low-pitched roof, wide eaves, and extensive use of natural materials, allowing it to blend seamlessly with its surroundings. This unity of architecture and nature is a cornerstone of the Prairie School design philosophy.

Inside the Baker House, you’ll find a spacious, open floor plan that allows for an easy flow between rooms. The generous use of windows and natural light creates an airy, inviting atmosphere, while the built-in furniture and custom woodwork showcase the craftsmanship and attention to detail that went into designing and constructing the home.

Impact on Modern Architecture

It’s a rare pleasure to see such a pristine example of Wright’s genius and the influence of the Prairie School on modern architecture — with its clean lines, simplicity, and connection to nature — up close. At Optima®, as we continue to design living spaces that blend form and function, we draw inspiration from architectural masterpieces like this every day.

Wilmette Landmarks: Robert and Suzanne Drucker House

As part of our Wilmette Landmark series, today we’ll cover a home steeped in an architect’s very own familial bonds. A home that has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2013 — The Robert and Suzanne Drucker House. Designed by one of Chicago’s iconic Modernist architects, Harry Weese.

An Overlooked Modernist

His practice was inexhaustibly creative. Rooted in the Modernist and Brutalist architectural styles which laid the groundwork for efficient and functional living spaces. His most famous work, the Washington Metro system, not only showcases Weese’s unique design approach but also illustrates how he prioritized the user experience with his coffered concrete vaults and meticulous attention to detail. Weese never shied away from innovation, all the while quietly detaching himself from the architectural dominance of Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Drucker House

Quietly closed off from view, the front of the Drucker home is a wonderful expression of Weese’s personal brand of Modernism — a synthesis of International Style, Scandinavian, and Midwestern influences. The home’s geometry is obscured by slatted screens and maturing cedar trees. The house is L-shaped. Consisting of two wings running parallel to the street and the other angled in a way that allows for sunlight. This L-shaped arrangement also allows for an expansive view of the front yard.

The back of the home, on the other hand, embraces its deep rectangular lot and thoughtfully placed windows. Along with a screened porch resembling film reel that takes advantage of natural light to cast the home’s image. The indoor and outdoor living space almost seem to be brought together through this effect, all while maintaining complete privacy.

Side view of Robert and Suzanne Drucker House
Side view of Robert and Suzanne Drucker House. Photo: Susan Benjamin

Weese built the Drucker house for his sister Suzanne and her family. It largely reflects Weese’s experimental approach to Modern design, and is informed by geometry rather than ornamentation. Furthermore, the house exhibits a remarkable focus on flexibility instead of adhering to a traditional layout that — when combined with how the Drucker family lived — created a universally functional residence that could accommodate the family’s lifestyle.

In its interior, the home is compartmentalized into zones delineated by screens and bookspaces. Each room flows effortlessly from one to another, the kitchen in particular being planned with convenience and ample storage in mind. In 1963, as the Drucker family began to grow, a second floor was added to provide more space.

As Optima® continues to embrace all that Wilmette has to offer, taking the time to highlight unconventional pioneers who blurred the boundaries of style and functionality is always a pleasure. We encourage you to take a slow drive to see this magnificent home and all that it has to offer on 2801 Iroquois Rd in Wilmette, IL.

 

 

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