Weekend at the Penfield, a FLW Usonian

In the summer of 2013, I enjoyed a special birthday celebration. I rented The Louis Penfield House, a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian in Lake County, Ohio. I spent the weekend there with my wife and on Saturday night we hosted several other couples for dinner.

I’d admired Wright’s work for years – decades – before that, and had toured many of his buildings. But this was the first time I’d stayed in one.

Experience Life in a FLW Designed Home  

The house, still in the Penfield family, has been lovingly and painstakingly restored not only in accordance with Wright’s architectural intentions, but also in keeping with his philosophy. So that weekend, we really got to experience what it was like to live in a Wright-designed home.

The compressed entrances and hallways. The original open floor plan. The built-in furniture. 

Every description of every Wright building mentions the light coming in … and we got to read the New York Times in that light, at the dining table, on Sunday morning.

It was the first time we’d rented a FLW building, and the first time I’d organized this particular group of friends for an event. (Since then, I’ve cajoled the same group to join me on a driving tour of other FLW buildings in Ohio, and to visit – and enjoy brunch at - Falling Water, about 2 hours from Cleveland. More on that soon.) 

Making Yourself At Home in a Frank Lloyd Wright Home

You can learn a lot from tours, from pictures, from drawings, from books. But if you want to experience a FLW design, there’s nothing like living inside of it – for a couple of days, at least.

My wife and I both enjoyed the space for the weekend – it was August, so we didn’t take full advantage of the radiant heat in the floor, but I’m sure it would be great in January. We did take advantage of the beautiful setting and strolled the property, which extends to the babbling Chagrin River.

But we were there to celebrate (my birthday!) and that called for an evening with friends. We set the table, poured the wine, and hosted a potluck dinner. We loved sharing the table, the house, and the whole experience with friends. We enjoyed telling them about the guest book, which we’d signed earlier, that contained names of people from all over the world who had stayed at the house.

Entertaining in the Penfield House, even just for one night, made it feel a little bit like home.  

Our friends enjoyed the evening, too, and in that unusually lovely experience, a tradition was born. Several times since then, we have shared other FLW homes and experiences – at least on tours – and we plan to keep doing it. (Of course I’ll share those stories here, too.)

What’s a Usonian House?

Herbert Jacobs challenged Wright to design a decent home for $5,000. Constructed in 1937, the Herbert Jacobs House is considered the first Usonian structure.

Stay tuned! We’ll soon offer a model of the Jacobs House through Little Building Co.

Get notified when it’s available 

Cleveland’s Got Architecture  

If you plan to stay at the Penfield House, you might want to see some other notable buildings while you’re in town. While the Penfield feels like a country home – and it is, in many ways – it’s about a 15-minute drive to Cleveland, where a Frank Gehry design sits on the campus of Case Western Reserve University. 

Less than two miles from there, in Lakeview Cemetery, is the stunning Wade Memorial Chapel, with one of the few interiors remaining that was built entirely by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his studios.

Head east to the heart of Cleveland to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, designed by I. M. Pei. (Psst: the Rock Hall is also available for rent, for up to 2,000 of your closest friends.)

Also downtown, you can see some of Marcel Breuer’s work. He designed the expansion of the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1971, the same year he created his only skyscraper, which still stands in Cleveland, on East 9th Street.

Into the classics? You can tour the Federal Reserve Building, a Romanesque design built in 1923.

Prefer to keep the focus on Wright’s homes? Another Usonian is nearby, at Oberlin College. The Weltzheimer/Johnson House offers limited public tours. Other FLW homes dot the Northeast Ohio landscape, notably in the east Cleveland ‘burbs and Canton, but they are strictly private residences.  

What? Ohio’s not your dream destination? You can rent FLW homes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and even Hawaii. Have you stayed in a FLW home? Would you like to share your experience? We’d love to hear from you.