The Ward W. Willits House

Frank Lloyd Wright's First Great Prairie House

Designed in 1901, Frank Lloyd Wright created plans for the Ward W. Willits House in Highland Park north of Chicago for the vice president of the Adams & Westlake Company brass foundry. Muralist and glassmaker Orlando Giannini worked for Willits at the time and made the introduction to Frank Lloyd Wright. The Willits House incorporates aspects of Japanese architecture and the Dutch art movement, both of which influenced Wright's development of his iconic Prairie Style. With a cruciform layout built around a central fireplace, the residence synthesizes Wright's wood frame and stucco construction model in a natural, elegant manner. Furthermore, the hipped roof and overhanging eaves spanning the length of both stories would soon become Prairie signatures.

Frank Lloyd Wright Willits House Rendering
Architectural rendering of Frank Lloyd Wright's Ward W. Willits House, Highland Park, IL, 1901

In addition to the Willits House itself, Wright designed accompanying interior furniture and decor along with over 100 art glass elements, including a series of leaded glass windows with a rectangular emphasis. Such an unadorned, geometric motif was considered dramatic in Western architecture at the turn of the 20th century. In retrospect, Wright came to consider the Willits House his "first great Prairie House." Although Wright and Willits eventually drifted apart, Willits continued living in the residence with his wife until he passed at age ninety-two in 1954. The present lot features a window that was removed during an early renovation of the Willits House after a new owner acquired the property.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Ward W. Willits House, Highland Park, IL, 1901
Frank Lloyd Wright's Ward W. Willits House, Highland Park, IL, 1901

Every great architect is — necessarily — a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright

During his seventy year career as an architect, Frank Lloyd Wright created more than 1,100 designs, half of which were realized and a large portion of which came about later in his life. Wright was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin in 1867. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 1885 to study civil engineering, completing only two years of the program. After working for Joseph Silsbee on the construction of the Unity Chapel in Oak Park, Illinois Wright decided to pursue a career in architecture and he moved to Chicago where he began an apprenticeship at the famed architectural firm Adler and Sullivan, working directly with Louis Sullivan until 1893.

After parting ways, Wright moved to Oak Park. Working from his home studio, he developed a system of design developed from grid units and rooted in an appreciation of natural materials that would come to be known as the Prairie School of Architecture and would change the landscape of American design forever. Wright devoted himself to teaching and writing during the 1920s and 1930s. 1935 marked the beginning of an immense surge of creativity and productivity as he began work on his most celebrated residential design, Fallingwater. In the 1940s and 1950s Wright focused on his Usonian designs that reflected his belief in democratic architecture, offering middle-class residential options. In 1943, Wright took on his most demanding commission, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The museum, which would open its doors six months after his death in 1959, would be called his most significant work.

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