Fallingwater, at home with nature

August 21, 2005|By KRISTIN WILSON

Imagine the serenity of a nature preserve.

You hear only the chirping of birds and the wind rustling the trees and their leaves.

The swirling, gurgling rush of a nearby waterfall fills the background noise.

Now imagine that this is your home.

Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright conceived of such a retreat and made it come to life in Fallingwater, a Pennsylvania home that famously hovers over a waterfall.

Now, the 1935 Wright-designed home is open to the public for regular tours. Through the holiday season, tourists flock to Fallingwater and the surrounding Bear Run Nature Preserve to take in autumn's sights.


"September is a great time to visit," says Brad Heiser, Fallingwater visitor services manager. Generally September is a less busy month, yet visitors still get a flavor of the season. "We always suggest weekdays over weekends, especially if you're looking for a more leisurely visit."

That's because Fallingwater was designed as a private residence, not as a tourist-friendly resort. The home can become overrun with school and private tour groups at certain times of the year, Heiser says.

Still, there are plenty of opportunities to experience Fallingwater in the way Wright envisioned it.

On Saturday, Aug. 27, visitors have a once-a-year opportunity to explore the Wright house by themselves during the annual Fallingwater Twilight Tour. The evening includes a nature photography exhibit, hors d'oeuvres, jazz music and a candlelit gourmet picnic dinner along Bear Run.

"That's a unique opportunity because it's one of the few times we allow people to walk through the house on their own," Heiser says. Tickets for the event are $150 to $175 per person. Proceeds go to support preservation of the home and grounds.

In-depth tours also are available, for $50, to see more of Fallingwater in smaller group settings. A two-hour tour is offered each day at 8:30 a.m. Tour sizes are limited to four to 10 people and include interpretation of all the major rooms in the house, plus secondary spaces that are not shown during the regular tour. Visitors will see the basement and service quarters, for example. Still photography is allowed during this tour. Children must be at least 9 years old to participate.

Regular tours are held throughout the day, lasting 45 minutes to one hour. All the major rooms of the house are visited, but photography is not allowed. Children must be 6 years old to take the regular tour. Tickets cost $6 to $15. The regular tour is a few dollars cheaper during the week.

All the tours of Fallingwater are guided and include discussion of the home, Wright's architecture and the integration of the home with the landscape.

Fallingwater is surrounded by Bear Run Nature Preserve, which boasts 20 miles of hiking trails and seven "rustic campsites," Heiser says. All are owned and operated by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

To better appreciate how Wright carved a home into such a natural setting, the conservancy offers a "Land of Fallingwater" tour and hike. "Wright was very much into the natural surroundings," Heiser says.

This tour, $50 per person, includes a guided three-mile hike and a tour of the house.

Part of a visit to Fallingwater is learning how the home is being preserved.

Fallingwater was designed for Pittsburgh department store owner Edgar J. Kaufmann and his family. In 1963, Edgar Kaufmann Jr. gifted the home, its contents and surrounding grounds to the conservancy. Since then, the nonprofit organization has monitored the home to make sure it doesn't slide off of the waterfall upon which it rests. In recent years, the conservancy stabilized the building with steel cables that act "like a suspension bridge," Heiser says.

Fallingwater is one of the only Frank Lloyd Wright homes remaining with its setting, original furnishings and artwork intact.

However, those visiting Fallingwater might consider checking out another Wright home constructed nearby.

Kentuck Knob is seven miles south of Fallingwater and offers daily tours and a sculpture garden with more than three dozen sculptures.

Wright designed the home as a private residence when he was 86. The home, which tops a 2,050-foot summit in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania, was privately owned until 1996, when Lord Peter Palumbo of England opened it to the public. Tours are available daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Through August, Saturday tours are available until 6 p.m. and in January and February, the home is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 to $15 and are slightly less expensive during the week. A $50-per-person, two-hour, "in-depth" tour of the residence and the surrounding grounds is also available. That tour begins at 8:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. Reservations and a deposit are required.

Tours of the sculpture garden are available by reservation only. Call

1-724-329-1901 for more information or to make reservations.

Heiser says visiting both homes "gives people two very good ideas of Wright's architecture."

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