The unique Kenneth and Phyllis Laurent House, the only house fabled architect Frank Lloyd Wright ever designed for a disabled person, opens to the public on 147th anniversary of Wright’s birth, the weekend of June 7-8, 2014.
The Laurent House is different from many Frank Lloyd Wright designed homes in a number of ways:
It is the only home he designed around the needs of a disabled person, anticipating by many years current ADA regulations.
The original owners lived in the house from its completion in 1952 until 2012, giving it one of the most complete documentations of any Frank Lloyd Wright property in the country. Many of the furnishings designed by Wright remain as well as many personal items collected by the Laurent’s.
The house is one of the few examples of Wright’s Usonian style in the Midwest, as opposed to his earlier Prairie style homes. The Usonian style, developed by Wright in the mid-twentieth century, aimed at developing a uniquely American, functional style suited for middle-income families.
The Laurent property is considered an early masterpiece of passive solar design, incorporating a solar hemicycle layout pioneered by Wright that maximizes the use of the sun for heat and light.
The Laurent’s commissioned the house in 1948 after an operation left Ken Laurent paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. His wife found the architect’s name in an issue of House Beautiful and the couple contacted Wright asking for a house that would allow Ken to move about easily. Many letters passed back and forth between the Laurent’s and the architect.
The house, built of Chicago Common Brick and Red Tidewater Cypress, was complete by 1952. While including many typical details common to Frank Lloyd Wright homes, such as built in cupboards and bench seating, the house in uniquely open in design with wide corridors and doors, as well as lowered built-in desks and other furniture, a spacious bathroom, and other distinctive features to make the house handicapped accessible. Special hinges on the doors allow them to open fully without taking up space.
The house turned out to be one of Wright’s favorites. He referred to it as “my little gem” and chose it to be included among just 35 other designs in a book of his most significant works. He remained close to the Laurent’s as well, visiting them often before his death in 1959. (Students of Wright’s life and work will realize that this is rather unusual for the architect, famed for his gruff style and sometimes rough handling of clients and their requests.)
The Laurent couple spent many happy years in their home, but as they entered their 90s, began looking for a buyer. The Rockford community, recognizing what a special treasure this is, raised $1 million to acquire the property and more to have it completely restored.
Today, the Laurent House, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sits amid landscaped gardens and grounds which include a patio, fishpond and carport. Low-key and lovely, it seems to blend seamlessly with its surroundings, speaking of a gracious life well-lived.
The public can visit the house year-round on the first and last weekend of each month. Three tours a day will leave Saturday and Sunday from the nearby Midway Village Museum, itself celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2014. Tours are $15 per person. Reservations for tours are required, and can be made on the Laurent House website.
More Frank Lloyd Wright: In nearby Belvidere, Illinois, visitors can tour the only cemetery chapel ever designed by Wright, the Pettit Memorial Chapel in the Belvidere Cemetery at 1121 N. Main Street.
Kenneth & Phyllis Laurent House
For additional information on touring in the Rockford area, visit GoRockford.com.