And then there was Graycliff

Email by E Steinebach on July 30, 2009

And then there was Graycliff Image

If you missed the Darwin D Martin House, that's one thing, but if you missed Graycliff, you really missed a treat. It does take a bit of an effort, our route wasn't particularly pleasant, sort of an industrial area, just along the lake. But oh, so worth it! It wasn't until we got closer to Graycliff, that we felt as if we arrived in cottage country.

Wright built the Martin house for Darwin and when it came to Graycliff, Wright built it for Isobel. Even Darwin insisted Wright attend to her every wish. And just when you think Wright and his style couldn't get any better or any different, well, his range just keeps on surprising.

The lane and welcoming pavilion are very unassuming. We arrived just a few minutes into the orientation talk, and soon were whisked out the side door. I had no idea what to expect. A short walk along the lane to the massive pillars that framed the entry gate. Then do you start getting intrigued. Not too far off do you see the sky through the trees, then your eyes find the long low structure, captured in the forest, and full of light. This is Wright.

Meander the path past the pond up to the portico, past the wee sunken garden. The vista through the trees draws you. You now realize how close you are to the cliff. But it doesn't stop there you continue past the entry and fully experience what you thought you only imaged from the front gate.

The majority of the first floor is all glass. From the distance it looked very much like the grove of trees just to the left, open and airy with a full canopy above. Wright's ability to take the vista from nature and translate that into architecture is boggling! And how magnificent. The front door appears to be attached to a tiny one room cabin, in comparison. It's nothing more than a vestibule with a tiny side door, the staircase up and then this open space that explodes with the view of the lake. You are sucked forward into the radiance of light. The grand hall – living room – is all glass. French style paired doors alternate as functional and fixed the entire length of both the lake side and the pond side. Just outside, terraced patios wide enough to dance on. In the center of this amazing room, a huge fireplace, almost a fire pit, capable of four foot logs. If that is not enough, Wright creates this sweet corner room where it is intimate, not this time for guests, but family. A well lit spot for Isobel to read or work on some craft and a place for the children to play games on the floor. Just beyond the green room/conservatory/mud room.

As you move back into the grand glass room, a short diversion outside, to the lake. The terrace patio leads down to the sunken garden and beyond, to the lake. Unfortunately erosion has destroyed much of what was at the end of the garden, where Isobel had a stone bench, which has long fallen onto the beach below. Remnants of the staircase to the beach, nothing more than a rickety skeleton of the life line to the waters edge. Back inside, tucked behind the fireplace, a dining room, with kitchen beyond. Upstairs, the canopy of the forest, all the windows have very cleaver screening to keep the bugs out and let the fresh air in. Wright's lengths of windows in every bedroom. Isobel realized very quickly more guest rooms would be required and Wright accommodated with the guest rooms over the three bay garage, which we did not get to see, however during Isobel's last years, she chose to remain in this smaller living area.

Wright's stained glass isn't as integral to the design here. There is lots of privacy, as the grounds are quite extensive and neighbors not too close. And with trees and lake views, well, even Wright understood he didn't need to compete with perfection. The the designs very plain, incorporating the diamond without much color at all.

Graycliff is a delight. Images of the Martin family are on display on the main floor. There is still much that the trustees wish to accomplish, ,including more of the structure to open to the public and the gardens. Well worth a visit.