A quality roof by Frank Lloyd Wright

We have started our major project for the year, removing 1970s tin flashing in order to  expose and restore the 1930s cedar soffits and facia. We will paint the entire house in appropriate Prairie colors, replace the 25-year old shingled roof (near the end of its life), and importantly, upgrade the ugly, dysfunctional gutters, which have been flimsy, leaky and sagging and not up to the task. Our new gutters will be period and architecturally appropriate and work better.

Frank Lloyd Wright took special care in specifying the gutters on American System-Built Homes and it paid off. These houses typically did not leak. He wanted the gutters to handle the volume of water and to last a long time; key to a good roof.

He directed that the factory would provide and the contractor would then install “…galvanized iron gutters and down spouts wherever and as indicated on drawings.” 

He was careful to include sufficient flow and a proper destination for the water, specifying the number of down spouts and “connecting same to the drainage system and so installed as to comply with the requirements of the city sanitation department.”

He directed that those gutters and down spouts should be properly treated for long life: “shall be given two coats of lead and oil point to match stained wood work.”

And finally, he wanted the materials to be of the highest quality. He wrote that “lead shall be pure white lead. National Lead, or equal. Oil shall be pure kettle boiled linseed oil. ” 1

We have taken delivery of some 200 feet of half round 6″ gutters and smooth round galvanized downspouts, exactly the shape and size as originally seen on the house (but subsequently removed and replaced with cheapies sometime in the last 70 years.)

The raw metal of our new vintage gutters is to be painted, as Wright directed, to ensure long life. Of course, we won’t be using lead paint. But we’ll come close in terms of performance.

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We started by removing the oil residue left by the factory with dish detergent and then we etched the surface with white vinegar and let it dry. We have applied an oil-based bonding primer, and will finish it with two coats of enamel paint in a color that matches the original exterior trim paint color, still visible in the sunroom, and that will reappear on the whole house again soon. The old gutters will come off on Monday, and the new ones should be installed sometime in the next week or so.

We’ll post more images as the project progresses here and at our Instagram page.

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1.Specification of materials and labor required for the American Model ____ in accordance with drawings prepared by Frank Lloyd Wright Architect, The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York) FLWFA Specs Box 2 1112-1903 –

13 thoughts on “A quality roof by Frank Lloyd Wright

  1. OK – I have a lot of questions about your experience, yet fear I would become pesterous if I just started to unload here. Wondering if you’d be willing to go into this with me at some point. I want to do that at my house. It would be a simpler job because no corners would be involved.
    Yet all my starts have dissuaded me, but looks like you broke thru and figured a path forward.

  2. Not sure if here is the place but I guess my first questions would be how did you find a supplier? What maximum lengths could you get? How did you learn to assemble and install?

    1. We consulted Wright’s drawings, the ASBH specifications, and vintage images of the home to know exactly what to buy and how to treat it (acid etched, primed, then two coats of an oil based paint.) We compared notes with the folks at the Burnham Block (http://wrightinmilwaukee.com) – where one of the single family homes has gutters (possibly original).

      Then we found a local supplier (The Gutter Company – https://tgcmke.com) able to supply us with galvanized 6 inch half-rounds and smooth downspouts and clips. They had some in stock and special ordered the rest. I believe the longest sections were 12 feet and we used a stock seam (caulk-sealed per the specs) to get to our lengths. They don’t leak at all. My wife and I have DIY’d roof/gutter projects before, but for this project – which involved soffits, fascia, a tear-off re-roof and gutters, we worked alongside a couple of talented home remodelers who brought another 50-ish years of experience. So yes, we installed ourselves, but with a committee of smart folks.

      Hope this helps!

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