Robie House's private spaces

Robie House

At the corner of 58th and Woodlawn, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House looks a little like a boat, functions a little like a fortress, and continues to impress visitors with its innovation a century after its construction.

I stopped in for tea with the Robies last week, but since they weren’t there—and apparently haven’t been for almost 100 years—I settled for the new Private Spaces tour, a 90-minute walk-through that features the same stops as the normal tour but also allows access to the third-floor bedroom level, the kitchen, and the servants’ wing.

I’m no architecture buff, but the tour’s discussion of the house’s functionality was fascinating. Frederick Robie, a bicycle manufacturer and father of two small children, wanted his house to be safe from unwanted visitors, and Wright’s design allowed for both safety and interaction with the outside neighborhood. The house’s 174 art-glass windows are one example of how Wright separated the Robies from passersby: one cannot see through the windows from the outside, but those on the inside have a fine view of the house’s surroundings.

In several parts of the tour, our guide explained how the house actually connected the family with nature even while protecting them from people outside. That’s particularly clear in one of the “private” sections of the house, the upstairs bedrooms, where the windows open out onto the planters on the balcony and the trees beyond them. I’d be inclined to think of the master bedroom as a tree house if it weren’t a piece of one the most architecturally influential houses in the country.

Restoration efforts are ongoing, though even unfinished areas like the billiard room were interesting—there we learned that Robie House was once a Theological Seminary dorm. If you’d rather wait until more of the house is finished, the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust has added a number of other programs, such as After Hours, a cocktail get-together at the house, and LEGO architects, where aspiring architects can build model designs.

Jake Grubman, ’11

Inside Robie House.

Photo courtesy of Smart Destinations / CC BY-SA 2.0

August 14, 2009