Thursday, May 1, 2014

Frank Lloyd Wright's Emil Bach House

Emil Bach House, seen from the roof top deck of the bed and breakfast next door

If you've driven along Sheridan Road between the north end of Lake Shore Drive and Evanston, you've passed the Bach House.  Maybe after traveling that stretch a few times you notice a house that distinguishes itself from the neighbors and do a double take.  Could that be a Frank Lloyd Wright house?  It is!

Looking up

Like many Chicago northsiders, I have gone by this house many times, and was always curious.  Years ago, I was a volunteer tour guide at Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio in Oak Park, and later at Robie House in Hyde Park.  I read in a community e-newsletter that the renovated home was having an open house in advance of the start of guided public tours by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.  Fortunately, I was free and could attend the event.  

View from the back of the lot, looking west toward the back of the house.
Tour group on the left is gathered near the front door.
(the door is left of center, between the group and  the small tree)

Built in 1915, Bach House is an example of Wright's late Prairie Style architecture, and is considered a transitional work.  Wright was moving from Prairie Style to a more Japanese-inspired architecture, and also shifting focus from residences to commercial properties. The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo would follow shortly after.

I won't get much into the history of the Bach House or its architectural elements, many before have written on such topics.  I will take you along on a brief tour, and share my experience.  

Bach House has many features I've seen in other Wright homes.  

A few:

  • Pathway of discovery to the front door (fun architecturally, but a nightmare for delivery people) 
  • Difficult to see inside the house despite no window coverings, but easy to see out
  • Inglenook (chimney corner, a small alcove adjacent to the fireplace)
  • Room within a room
  • Built in furniture
  • Bringing the outside in, plenty of views and sunlight
  • Juxtaposition of low ceiling and openness
  • Open floor plan - a new concept at this time
  • Strong horizontal elements
  • This being a transitional house, it also has cubic elements and a good amount of verticality

Pathway of Discovery
winding to the front door (as seen from living room)
looking south to Sheridan Road

Inglenook, open floor plan

Living Room

Dining room table

Kitchen (sympathetically updated)
As typical for Wright, the kitchen is rather small. 

Stairway to second floor and access to the roof deck

In all, it seems subsequent owners were rather kind to the house.  All the original built-in furniture was gone, however.  There were plan and clues within the house, so everything has been reproduced.  

Some built-in furniture in the bedrooms (me in the bottom left photo!)

Originally, on the second floor there were three bedrooms and a maid's quarters, which has now been turned into a sitting room and additional bathroom.  All of the bedrooms have windows on three sides, and access to the outside. 

I'd be happy to sit here.

The art glass is also all reproduction.  Again, there were plans, and one of the original windows is on display at The Art Institute of Chicago.     

Reproduction window in a bedroom, facing north along Sheridan Road

When built, the Bach House was a nice country home.  Sheridan Road was not the busy thoroughfare it is today.  Even still, once inside, it feels quiet and secluded, and the noise from the road is very minimal.  To the east, from the back of the house, there was once a clear view to Lake Michigan.  Today there is just a little sliver.  A wee bit is more view than at my house, and the beach is just one block away.  

Facing east, toward the lake  

Over the years, a few other changes happened to the property.  The back porch was enclosed as the traffic grew on Sheridan Road and other buildings went up.  A garage was added.  More recently, a sweet Japanese-influenced.... I'm actually not sure what to call it, was built at the back of the lot.  Porch or screen room doesn't seem right, it is nicer than that.  Out building?  It is an outdoor room with sliding screens.  The center part of the roof is raised to allow ventilation.  I'd really like one for my yard.  Not that there's even enough space!  

Fabulous outdoor room
Spring is slowly but steadily coming to Chicago

In addition to the seasonal public tours, the house is now available to rent for special events and even overnight and vacation stays.  There is also a lovely bed and breakfast next door, The Lang House.  

The Emil Bach House should certainly be included in any Wright buff's tour of Chicagoland.  It would be an interesting contrast in homes and neighborhoods to tour Robie House and the Bach House on the same day.  To me, Robie House is bigger and grander, more obvious on its site, and the immediate area more residential / academic (it is surrounded by University of Chicago).  As I  mentioned earlier, Bach House is on a very busy road, and it is the astute observer that notices it just getting about town.  It is more compact, and seems to keep to itself.  

I would also recommend it to anyone interested in Chicago architecture and history, the Prairie Style, or those in the area looking for neighborhood gems.  It would be a great thing to do with visitors.  Have a picnic at the beach after!  

View of back from northeast corner (now enclosed porch in foreground)

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