The Farnsworth House

After many years, more like decades, I finally made it out to visit an architectural icon located, in, of all places, Plano, Illinois. The Farnsworth House (1951) is a glass box of a vacation home designed by Mies van der Rohe. It’s as much a work of art as it is a retreat from the city.

If you’re an architecture junkie like me, no matter what style you prefer, I encourage you to visit the Farnsworth House. Photographs don’t do it justice. It must be seen to be believed.

Set on a large piece of land by the Fox River, the house is almost completely hidden from view; as you approach it, you don’t really see it until you’re almost directly upon it. Saturday was an ideal fall day, perfect for appreciating the beautiful wooded surroundings.

We took the tour, which lasted about an hour and allowed us inside. Four glass walls provide unobstructed views of the river, trees, grass, sunlight, and shadows that surround and fill the house. When you’re looking at the house, you’re seeing through it. The living space is built around a central core that houses the wiring and plumbing. Before the addition of a wardrobe, there were no internal walls; one room flowed into another. It’s all clean lines and flat surfaces, free of ornamentation. It’s really incredible.

Coming Upon the Farnsworth House

Would I want to live there? No, probably not. Like Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe didn’t design his homes for human comfort. Even with radiant heat in the floor, all that glass would have made for a chilly winter. Summer would have been even worse, with no air conditioning (which has since been added) and only two small windows that opened. Dr. Farnsworth, the original owner, described it as her terrarium. Opening the front door for a breeze wouldn’t have been much of an option, since mosquitoes are a real problem in the summer months.

As it’s located on the floodplain, Farnsworth House risks flooding, which it has a few times, despite the fact that it’s raised many feet off the ground. And because the house was built as a weekend retreat — and less is more — there’s no storage. But who needs storage when you’re living in a work of art?

See the rest of my photos from The Farnsworth House.

3 thoughts on “The Farnsworth House

  1. I’ve always wanted to see it. I’m so glad to have your review. I visited one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses in Virginia. It is also a work of art better not lived in.

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