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Are Stained Glass Windows Out of Style?

At Optima®, we’re always fascinated to spotlight the unique elements of architecture and design that have had a profound impact in history. This time, we’re focusing on the renaissance of a timeless art form that is seamlessly bridging the gap between the traditional and the contemporary — Stained Glass Windows.

Stained-glass windows, or art glass windows, often appreciated for their utility and beauty, have roots tracing back to ancient Rome. They blossomed into prominence between 1150 and 1500, adorning the cathedrals of Europe with intricate, vibrant patterns. But the modern era is experiencing a resurgence of this art form. Today, stained glass windows aren’t confined to churches or Victorian homes but have made an enchanting comeback in contemporary design.

Arthur B Heurtley House. Photo: yooperann

Famed architects have leveraged the beauty of stained glass in their designs. Frank Lloyd Wright, for instance, frequently incorporated art glass into his iconic works, including the remarkable Arthur Heurtley House in Oak Park. Here, he integrated stained glass windows into the home’s design, creating intricate geometric patterns that brought warmth, privacy, and an unparalleled aesthetic charm. The use of art glass also reveals itself in the Oak Circle Historic District, a small grouping of 15 early twentieth-century houses, built primarily in the Craftsmen style with magnificent detailing from the Prairie School of Architecture.

Craftsman style house with art glass windows in Oak Circle. Photo: Jameson Sotheby’s International Realty

Stained glass windows are more than just pleasing aesthetics. They are crafted with a fascinating process. The basic ingredients for glass, sand, and wood ash are melded into a beautiful symphony of colors with the addition of powdered metals. These pieces of colored glass are assembled into captivating designs that tell stories, highlight themes, or merely add an artist’s touch to any space.

Why are stained glass windows reclaiming their spot in modern design, you ask? Their versatility, for one, is unmatched. Customizable to fit any stylistic preference, they can embody soft, subtle color combinations or bold, elaborate displays. But their versatility extends beyond just aesthetics. Though windows are the most common form, stained glass has been creatively integrated into room dividers, doors, and even fireplace screens.

In the Szafraniec Chapel at Wawel Cathedral, by Jozef Mehoffer; 1908.
Photo: Slices of Light

Moreover, these artistic installations are a boon to privacy. Stained glass windows can block unattractive views without compromising on natural light. This interplay of privacy and luminosity creates intimate spaces infused with a stunning spectrum of colors.

Stained glass windows also serve as a profitable investment. They’re known to increase the value of your home in more ways than one. From enhancing your home’s curb appeal to augmenting its market and perceived value, stained glass windows serve as an alluring asset.

Miami Airport

We’re thrilled to see the innovative ways in which stained glass windows are being used in modern design. Every architectural element tells a story and contributes to the overall narrative of the space. Stained glass windows are a testament to this belief – a beautiful blend of art, history, functionality, and design. In the end, they give us pause, reminding us that while architecture serves as a canvas, it’s our creativity that paints the picture.

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.

Women in Architecture: Isabel Roberts

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re spotlighting one of America’s most overlooked architects. As one of only two women in the original Prairie School, Isabel Roberts immediately became an inspiration for women architects in the early 20th century. Learn more about her riveting life and career below: 

The Life of Isabel Roberts

Isabel Roberts was born on March 7, 1871, in Mexico, Missouri. Her parents were natives of the eastern coast; her father was a mechanic from Utica, New York, and her mother was from Prince Edward Island, Canada. Growing up, Roberts and her family moved often; traveling from Missouri to Providence, Rhode Island, to South Bend, Indiana. 

The Isabel Roberts House, by Frank Lloyd Wright Studio, 1908

At 18 years old, Roberts moved to New York City, where she studied architecture at the Atelier Masqueray-Chambers from 1899-1901. The atelier was the first in the nation to teach architecture with the principles used by École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Architects Emmanuel Louis Masqueray and Walter B. Chambers founded the school to forge more rewarding educational and professional opportunities for women in architecture at the time. 

Notable Works and Achievements  

In 1901 after completing school at the Atelier Masqueray-Chambers, Roberts moved to Illinois to take a position under Frank Lloyd Wright in his Oak Park office. She worked with Wright alongside a team of six others, which included Marion Mahony Griffin, the only other woman in the group that would become known as the Prairie School. 

Eola Park Bandshell, Ryan and Roberts, 1924

Roberts’ impact while working for Wright is commonly underestimated as she contributed her design expertise to various projects, primarily after he left Oak Park for Europe in 1909. Some of her most notable projects include K.C. DeRhodes House in South Bend, Indiana – a commission for a friend of the Roberts family – the Laura Gale House in Oak Park and the Stohr Arcade Building in Chicago. 

St. Cloud Veterans Memorial Library, Ryan and Roberts, 1923

Commissioned by Isabel’s mother, Mary, the Isabel Roberts House in River Forest, Illinois, was another of Roberts’ illustrious designs with Wright. Completed in 1908, the home’s intricate arrangement contained a warm brick hearth at its core and utilized a mixture of half-story levels to connect living areas. The Prairie School design featured other innovative additions for the time, including a vaulted ceiling, diamond-paned windows and a grand octagonal balcony.

A Guide to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Studios Part 1: Taliesin

Frequently referred to as the father of American modernism through his establishment of the Prairie School of architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright gifted the world with many culturally-significant designs, forever leaving his stamp on American architecture. Many of Wright’s designs are widely celebrated and remain standing today, including Taliesin, one of his most iconic works that altered his life and the lives of those around him while serving as his studio.

The archetype of Prairie School architecture was built in 1911 by Wright after he had left Oak Park, Illinois to return to his family’s land in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Derived from Welsh mythology, Taliesin was an ancient poet, whose name means radiant brow. Wright built the exemplary estate in a Wisconsin River valley into the brow of his favorite hill from boyhood, hence its name. 

During the process of designing Taliesin, Wright drew inspiration from the patterns and rhythms of his surroundings. He became inspired by the thought of living among his ancestry and the nature that surrounded him as he embodied the idea of organic architecture within his design. Wright refined visions from his previous Prairie School designs, including a lush courtyard and open floor plan, and used local limestone and sand from the Wisconsin River to invite the outdoors indoors — a radical idea at the time. 

Throughout the estate’s history, it suffered a number of accidents, including two fires that sparked Wright to complete two renovations on Taliesin. The first of which, Taliesin II, was completed in 1915 after arson had destroyed one-third of the house, including Wright’s living quarters. The redesign was nearly identical to the architecture in Taliesin I, excluding its new observation deck and, in an attempt to make the estate completely self-sufficient, Wright’s hydroelectric generator. 

Taliesin, Photographed in 1913 before the first of its two fires, Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society

Following another destructive fire in 1925, Wright was forced once again to pour new life into Taliesin and went to develop the third rendition of the estate, Taliesin III. Through the devastation, Wright remained committed to his passion for thoughtful architecture and brought a breath of fresh air to the bare structure that surrounded him. While living at Taliesin III Wright also designed some of his more renowned work, including Fallingwater, the headquarters for S.C. Johnson and Jacobs I (the Herberg Jacobs House).

Beginning in 1932, Wright established the Taliesin Fellowship and hosted 50 apprentices at Taliesin on an annual basis, giving them the opportunity to work for him for a lengthy period of time and experience his intensive working environment. Today, the estate is in the hands of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, and the fellowship uses the neighboring Hillside School as its home base. The esteemed property was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1976. 

Located just a few hours outside of Chicago, the Taliesen estate is the perfect day trip for anyone who appreciates breathtaking architecture and offers visitors a variety of tours designed for every level of interest, which can be booked on their website here

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