A blocked sight-line to be restored to Wright’s plan

Some renovation happens incrementally. True, we’d like to make everything perfect in one day, but time and budgets only allow so much to happen at once. And some problems (like squishy floors and old roofs) are more serious than others, so they take priority.

We did some vital work on the kitchen in the first weeks we lived here removing faux wall and floor treatments…

… and modernizing appliances. A few months later, we replaced lights and paint. And with that, the kitchen was useful, but not historically-appropriate. You don’t see many pictures of the kitchen in our gallery because we’ve not yet solved an aesthetically-complex issue: a sight-line destroyed by a modern appliance. A travesty. You can see it here:

February 2020

When the Elizabeth Murphy House was built in 1917-1918, Frigidaire had not yet introduced its self-contained modern refrigerator. Only the wealthy could afford compression-based cooling systems. So Wright designed this model A203 to have an ice-box. A deliveryman would enter through the back door and drop a block of river ice into an insulated, built-in cabinet in the back hall. If the family was not home, hall doors could be closed and locked from the inside, so the deliveryman would not have access to the rest of the home. So the main kitchen did not have a place for a free-standing refrigerator. Note, in the layout below, that while working at the stove, the view into the breakfast nook and out the front windows was clear.

Then, a floor model fridge was crammed into the kitchen in the in the 1930s or 40s (we don’t have a record of the exact date.) And in the 1970s, the occupants reengineered Wright’s kitchen floor plan to make room for modern appliances. Lower cabinets were made higher and deeper to accept a stove and dish washer, and a large refrigerator was placed where the stove once was. The old hallway ice-box was converted to storage. Thus, an-all-important sight-line was destroyed.

In the last weeks, we’ve made a breakthrough. We’ve ordered under-counter refrigeration (2 drawers of cooling, 2 drawers of freezing) and have designed and are building a counter-height workspace that – we hope – would meet Wright’s approval. It is being built in solid birch, will carry the trim themes that appear throughout the rest of the home, and, most importantly, will open that closed sight-line, once and for all.

Here are the floor-plans, evolving for appliances, over the years.

Construction is underway:

Stay tuned for pictures of the finished result, which should post later in March.

About this blog: The Elizabeth Murphy House is a 103 year-old American System-Built Home and the protagonist in the book “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Forgotten House, published by University of Wisconsin Press, and available for pre-order now.”

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