Frank Lloyd Wright Furniture: The Inspiration Behind Iconic Designs

Frank Lloyd Wright, Pair of Hexagon-Back Chairs from the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo Frank Lloyd Wright, Pair of Hexagon-Back Chairs from the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo. Sold for $35,000 via Sotheby's (December 2018).

Frank Lloyd Wright (18671959) was a prolific and well-loved architect, designing more than 1,000 structures over the course of his nearly 70-year career. But while his architectural accomplishments are widely celebrated, Wright is perhaps lesser-known for his contribution to the world of furniture and decor. In fact, the architect viewed a building’s furnishings and interior design as crucial to the work’s total aesthetic, and was said to be concerned with his structures being spoiled by cheap, mismatched objects. Throughout the course of his career, Wright would go on to design approximately 1,100 pieces of furniture, many of which continue to fetch high prices at auction to this day.

So, in honor of the legendary architect’s birthday on June 8th, what better opportunity to explore Frank Lloyd Wright’s notable and unique furniture designs? Let’s dive in.

Who Was Frank Lloyd Wright?

Born in Wisconsin in 1867, Frank Lloyd Wright began his foray into architecture during his time living in Chicago in the 1880s. He got his start working for Adler & Sullivan, a prominent local firm established by architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan. Wright quickly became chief assistant to Sullivan, and established his own architecture practice in 1893. Over the course of the following two decades, Wright rose to prominence as one of the originators of “Prairie Style” architecture, producing notable homes and structures throughout the Midwest. Known for spacious living areas, continuous open spaces, and low, angled roofs, the Prairie Style revolutionized modern home construction by using economical, mass-produced materials previously reserved for commercial buildings.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Though his career was marred by his tumultuous personal life and the economic crash of 1929, Wright enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in the 1930s and 1940s. He designed some of his best-known buildings in the US and abroad during this later chapter of his career, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Marin County Civic Center in California. Wright would also go on to author more than 20 books, and he was a distinguished lecturer throughout the course of his life.

Types of Frank Lloyd Wright Furniture

From the onset of his career, Frank Lloyd Wright’s interest was not limited solely to architecture. From furniture to lighting, artwork, and floor coverings, Wright strove to make each of his prairie homes a “complete work of art”. Wright’s first experiments with crafting furniture likely took place while he was designing his own home in Oak Park, Illinois during the 1890s. A simplistic and revolutionary style for the time, the home featured built-in window seats, a dramatic dining table, and eight high-backed chairs, a vertical aesthetic that Wright’s furniture would ultimately become known for. 

Frank Lloyd Wright Chairs

While Frank Lloyd Wright designed a wide variety of furniture throughout his career, his chairs were perhaps his most sought after pieces. Drawing inspiration from the simplicity of Japanese design and American craftsmen such as Gustav Stickley, Wright’s early chairs were typically heavy, formal oak pieces. As his career progressed, Wright experimented with sleeker, more futuristic aesthetics, a precursor to modern minimalist furniture design.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Armchair from the Larkin Administration Building, Buffalo, New York.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Armchair from the Larkin Administration Building, Buffalo, New York. $80,000 – $120,000 via Sotheby’s (December 2018).

This original Frank Lloyd Wright painted metal and wood armchair from the Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, New York was most recently sold by Sotheby’s for an estimated $120,000 in 2018. As Wright said about the Larkin Building, “the first emphatic outstanding protest against the tide of meaningless elaboration sweeping the United States … The furniture was all made of steel and magnesite built into place—even the desks and chairs we made with the building.”

Frank Lloyd Wright, Pair of Hexagon-Back Chairs from the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo

Frank Lloyd Wright, Pair of Hexagon-Back Chairs from the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo. Sold for $35,000 via Sotheby’s (December 2018).

This pair of elegant, hexagon-backed Frank Lloyd Wright chairs from the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, also sold by Sotheby’s in 2018, garnered $35,000 at auction.

Frank Lloyd Wright / George Mann Niedecken for the Avery Coonley House rocking chair

Frank Lloyd Wright / George Mann Niedecken for the Avery Coonley House rocking chair. Sold for $9,760 via Toomey & Co. Auctioneers (June 2015).

This classic birch rocking chair was part of Wright’s 1907 commission for the Avery Coonley Estate in Riverside, IL. Part of the estate of Jeannette Fields, the Avery Coonley House rocking chair realized $9,760 at a Toomey & Co. auction in 2015.

Frank Lloyd Wright Tables

Wright was also meticulous when it came to designing tables and surfaces for his various projects. During the early prairie home phase of his career, many of Wright’s tables were imposing, heavy oak designs, similar to the early high-backed chairs he became known for. Working with a number of different partners, Wright would go on to design a plethora of notable tables in various styles, from classic oak dining tables to more modern office desks and consoles. One notable example is the dining area of the Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago, where Wright seamlessly blended a large wooden dining table with mounted glass lighting fixtures, achieving a comfortable, warming aesthetic for the entire space.

The dining area of the Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago. Photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, ILL,16-CHIG,33-7.

This Frank Lloyd Wright coffee table was designed for the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Completed in 1956, The Price Tower is an example of a more modern design from later in Wright’s career, both structurally and stylistically. This piece realized $32,500 during a 2015 Wright auction in Chicago.

Frank Lloyd Wright coffee table from Price Tower

Frank Lloyd Wright coffee table from Price Tower. Sold for $32,500 via Wright (June 2015).

This arts and crafts style oak console table was most likely designed by Wright for his Taliesin East estate in Spring Green, Wisconsin in the early 1900s. Tragically, Taliesin East was burnt nearly to the ground by a disgruntled employee in 1914, killing Wright’s mistress, Mamah Borthwick, in the process. This surviving wooden table is very much consistent with the prairie style of many of Wright’s notable early works.

Frank Lloyd Wright Arts and Crafts Oak Console Table.

Frank Lloyd Wright Arts and Crafts Oak Console Table. $30,000-$40,000 via Doyle New York (September 2018).

Frank Lloyd Wright Decorative Objects

Wright’s creations weren’t limited to just tables, chairs, and larger objects. The architect was also known for designing innovative light fixtures, windows and glass pieces, floor coverings, and smaller decorative art pieces as well. Wright was known to fixate on every last detail of a project, down to the flower vases adorning his tables and the murals decorating his walls. Two of his more notable decorative pieces included a copper urn and a decorative “weed holder” vase, both of which are preserved in his Oak Park studio.

 

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Important and Rare "Sumac" Window

Frank Lloyd Wright, An Important and Rare “Sumac” Window. Sold for $435,000 via Sotheby’s (December 2017).

This rare glass window was designed by Wright in 1902 for the Susan Lawrence Dana House in Springfield, Illinois. Sold en suite with a matching piece, this iridized glass window realized an astounding $435,000 at a 2017 Sotheby’s sale, making it one of the most expensive Frank Lloyd Wright pieces ever sold at auction.

 

Painted plaster sculpture study, 'Muse of Music,' designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, sculpted by Alfonso Ianelli

Painted plaster sculpture study, ‘Muse of Music,’ designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, sculpted by Alfonso Ianelli. Sold for $8,500 via Thomaston Place Auction Galleries (August 2013).

This painted plaster sculpture, “Muse of Music”, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and sculpted by Alfonso Ianelli for the Midway Gardens in Chicago. Opened in 1914, Midway Gardens featured a dance hall and entertainment complex and was forced to cease operations during the prohibition period. The sculpture sold for $8,500 at a Thomaston Place auction in 2013.

Pampaloni Argenti for Tiffany & Co., Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) for the Imperial Hotel, large covered tureen

Pampaloni Argenti for Tiffany & Co., Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) for the Imperial Hotel, large covered tureen. Sold for $7,500 via Toomey & Co. Auctioneers (December 2017).

Another piece from the Imperial Hotel, this unique sterling silver tureen was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Pampaloni Argenti for Tiffany + Co. A prime example of Wright’s influence on even the smallest details of a project, this vessel realized $7,500 during a 2017 auction in Oak Park, IL.

Frank Lloyd Wright Furniture Today

While Frank Lloyd Wright was said to shy away from commercialism for most of his career, in 1955, he entered into a licensing deal with furniture manufacturer Heritage-Henredon to bring his style to a wider swath of middle-class America. Known as the Taliesin Ensemble, pieces from this mass produced furniture line have become collectors items in their own right, though they never really caught on with the public at the time. Whether it’s through his original works or the many modern furniture lines produced in conjunction with his estate, the style and influence of Frank Lloyd Wright furniture will continue to be preserved for its important place in history.


Sources: Architectural Digest | Copeland Furniture | Curbed | Frank Lloyd Wright | Frank Lloyd Wright Trust | Mid-Century Modern Groovy