Frank Lloyd Wright’s Emil Bach House
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Emil Bach House reveals the interesting history and extensive work that went into the restoration of this landmark home, one of the final Prairie Houses designed and built by the renowned architect.
- [Narrator] Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the greatest
and well-known architects
of all time.
He designed some of the most celebrated structures
in the world.
He was prolific.
Influential, innovative and controversial.
He was a leader of the prairie school movement,
designing homes that were in stark contrast
to the more popular Victorian homes of his era.
In 1915, he was commissioned to build
a family home in Chicago.
During this time his popularity, legacy and ambition grew.
He took on more international work
and reinvented his style.
Leaving Chicago and his prairie-style homes behind.
Why was such a modest house designed
and built by Frank Lloyd Wright?
And how has it endured for over a century?
This is the story of the Emil Bach house.
The people that have lived in it
and the architect that designed and built
one of his last prairie-style homes.
- Frank Lloyd Wright was an American architect.
He was born in southwestern Wisconsin
and eventually made his first career here in Chicago.
- An architect who began practice
in the late 19th century
and continued with a career which spanned over 50 years
almost all of which was intensely creative.
- Chicago's where Wright spent the first 20 years
of his career and his experiences in the city
in this incredibly progressive and immersive environment
of creativity really helped shaped the philosophies
that define Wright's architecture throughout his career.
- The evolution of Wright's idea about space
and opening up the house, the way that we live in a house,
I think is clearly one of his points of genius.
- And if you look at other homes
from the time period,
especially earlier in that 1890s and maybe a little bit
into 1900, homes and the way that they were designed
were very different,
and the way that families inhabited those homes
in a Victorian era home were very different.
- So the houses that were being built
in the Chicago area that Wright encountered
typically, he described them as boxes
within boxes where rooms, box-like rooms
were stacked upon box-like rooms.
- And those types of homes
you would see things like each room in the home
would be very much its own unit.
It would have doors, it would have windows,
it would be a box.
And you had a specific function in that room.
This is the room where we welcome guests.
This is the room where we eat.
And they would be very distinct units of things.
- Wright works to sweep away all of that clutter
and open up the house to create these tremendous
open floor plans.
- [Richard] The nature of form and of space
is fundamentally changed in his work this way.
- There wouldn't be nearly as many doors.
There would be more natural tones,
so in a Victorian home, for example,
you may have painted wood.
In an arts and crafts, or a Frank Lloyd Wright
designed home, you would have the natural woods
with some finish, but not blue or red
or some brighter colors.
- Wright's philosophy of architecture
was something that he called organic architecture.
And this idea related to the design of the house
as an organic whole where every element of the design
comes together in a unique synthesis.
- And he sees a much more fluid way
of moving around the house.
Where you might come into the home
and you see that welcoming area,
but it could be where you also gather with friends
or gather with family.
To me, Wright's really understanding how families
are changing at this time period.
And his homes reflect that change.
- Chicago, especially through its city ordinances
since 1871 and the Great Chicago Fire,
was really obsessed by something called the fire limit.
Any new construction inside the fire limit
had to be built out of non-flammable materials,
i.e. should not be built out of wood.
- So it's using concrete as a way to also
lower the cost of the house.
So concrete slabs would protect against fire
and also be slightly cheaper.
Wright was conscious of cost
and so he partnered with the Lady's Home Journal
and in 1907 produced drawings for what was then called
a fireproof house and it was build at $5000.
- In a promotional aspect of the fireproof house plan
and the other pieces published in the Lady's Home Journal,
I think the more important thing with those
is Wright's putting out in public his ideas.
- [Jen] So here was a design that you could purchase
and then you could buy good design, basically
even though you didn't have Wright
as your specific architect.
- Chicago in 1915 and that early 20th century era,
was really a national center of all kinds of manufacturing
including building materials.
And the Bach Brick company was one of those main companies
that would make bricks.
- [Jen] Emil Bach and his brother Otto owned a brick factory
and they produced bricks
that were used in homes across the region.
- The Bach Brick company was located on the north and south
between Montrose and Irving Park.
And on the east and west was the north branch
of the Chicago river and California avenue.
The main manufacturer of the brick yard
was for common brick,
which was a brick that was commonly used building structures
as well as the brick in the Chicago stock yards
was also made of Bach bricks.
At the time it was a very successful brick yard.
There were seven people involved,
eight including William Bach
that made a good living in it
for 20 years, 25 years.
The money was sufficient enough
to buy Frank Lloyd Wright houses,
which two of the Bach brothers did own.
- [Jen] So, Emil's brother Otto actually purchased
a Wright-designed home,
that was designed originally for the Steffen family.
- My grandfather being familiar with Otto's house
now, which was a Frank Lloyd Wright house,
became very interested in it, liked it
and had Frank Lloyd Wright design
and build one for him in 1915.
- [Jen] And so it was that sort of connection
of Otto to his brother Emil
that one brother had a Wright home
and the other one wanted one as well.
- The Emil Bach house is a transitional building
in the overall arc of Wright's career.
It comes at a very interesting, quite turbulent time
In 1910, he'd spent a year in Europe
working on the publication
of a substantial monograph of his buildings and projects
that was published and became known
as the Wasmuth Portfolio.
- He's coming back from Europe, he's coming back from Asia,
he's had some tragedies in his life
at this time period.
The imperial hotel is still to come in Japan.
His California homes where he's using more concrete,
less wood and looking at more organic forms
but still in an abstract way.
All of that is yet to come.
- And the Bach House fits right in the middle
of this period where he's about to embark
on all of these new adventures.
- And you can see that
that urge to experiment without fundamentally
changing his vocabulary with midway gardens
and the Imperial Hotel and other projects
of the 1910s.
- [David] But he began to move away from the prairie
as his main influence.
- So you can say the Bach House is part of that
but all of that work I think is more easily fueled
within the framework of earlier work
but it is really is a herald of the 1920s.
- [Gunny] The Emil Bach House is considered by some
to be one of his last prairie houses.
And it certainly relates to those houses
by its horizontality, the use of the wood trim,
both on the outside and the inside of the house
that's emphasizing the horizontal plane.
- [David] The use of natural materials,
the sensitive color pallet,
the integration of sight and structure.
- [Gunny] That there is a relationship
of the inside to the outside
and the extension of the house through the use of walls
and so on, into the landscape flowing around
through the living room and into the dining area.
And a central hearth which was always important to him
in any of his houses was the heart of the house
was the hearth.
- [David] He still continues to explore ideas
of organic architecture,
but he begins to seek new influences.
- [Jen] I think this house is special
because it represents a time period
that was a hinge point for Frank Lloyd Wright
in his career.
We still have a lot of horizontal lines,
but it's a much more cubic form
with a flat roof and it's the last remaining one
in the city of Chicago.
- This house is a unique design for the box,
but it also relates a little bit to
the idea that Wright was working with at the time
which was to create an affordable house,
a fireproof house of around $5000.
This isn't an exact match of any of those plans
that he had, but I think he was trying to keep the cost
to an affordable level here.
But as with I think every Wright project
that ever got built anywhere,
it didn't always stay that way, so.
- When my grandfather was considering building a house
with Frank Lloyd Wright, they were going into
the details of the financing,
how much is was gonna cost
and all the details of the house.
And I think the understanding initially
was that the house would be under $10000,
so Frank Lloyd Wright wrote my grandfather a letter
saying that he was afraid that the cost
of the house would probably exceed $10000.
- Mr. Wright responded to Mrs. Bach saying
well, since the furniture's built-in
and we added this, and this is the best contractor
for the job, that it was actually a very good price
since all these things could be written into the mortgage
and it was a good deal.
- For which right now in today's market place
looks like peanuts,
but back in 1915, $10000 was quite a bit of money.
- All architects are wrestling with the same issues, right?
They're wrestling with a budget, a client, materials.
They're all wrestling with the same things,
it's the solution, of course, that we care about.
It's how they solved those problems
and if you look at somebody like Wright,
we spend a lot of time talking about him,
thinking about him here in Chicago
because he was doing something that was just so different
than his contemporaries.
One of the things that's very common
in Frank Lloyd Wright homes
is this idea that Wright talked about
in terms of compression and release.
- As often is the case with Wright houses,
particularly in this early period of his
he was interested in heightening your sense
of approach and awareness of the procession
and that you're on this path, a path of discovery.
- [Jen] Wright's figuring out ways
of how you get in, how you approach from the street,
and then also the pathway within the home itself.
- He would create intentionally a lot of 90 degree turns.
So when you come off the street to the house,
that's your first turn.
And you approach the house and you hit the little stairs
and you have to make a left turn,
then you go up the stairs and there's a landing
and you make a right turn, you go up the stairs,
you proceed forward and you're looking for the entrance
and the path takes you to the entrance,
even though you don't see it directly with your eye.
Right in front of you is another garden wall
with the screen on it, which is a beautiful element
of the house.
And that clearly you gotta make a choice, left or right
and the house is to your left,
so you sense that and you move to the left.
So I don't know how many turns that is,
but it's probably six or seven
before you get inside the house.
Then you get up to the top of the stairs
and again, as you move in the house,
you're also making these turns.
- And you can see that the dining room flows
into the living room, and the living flows
into the sitting area which is right off the kitchen.
- [Gunny] It's intentional and it's a subtle
thing that you're not even really aware of
other than the fact that you know you're looking
for where am I going?
And that heightens your sense of looking at the house
and thinking about it in spacial way,
I think it was very intentional on his part.
- It's incredibly important to restore buildings
like the Emil Bach House
because they're a very significant part
of America's cultural heritage.
- Sullivan has this great quote when he says:
"Our architecture reflects us as truly as a mirror."
and I love this idea.
I love this idea that the buildings reflect
who we are as a society.
What we value, what we think is important,
our family structures, how we work, how we live.
The decisions we make about how do we inhabit the land,
the landscape, all those things are embodied
in an art form and in a science
and I think that is really why architecture matters.
- I probably was just in grade school, pretty young.
And you'd walk down the street
and you'd see all these houses
that all looked pretty much the same.
And then all of the sudden, there was this place
that didn't look like anything else.
And I can remember asking my mother, "what's that?"
So it caught my attention, it jumped out at me.
- To me, that's that intersection
of architecture and emotion.
That is so important.
That emotions when you feel when you walk into a space,
or when you come into a room.
We should experience it in that way
because of that and it's hard to get that
from a book, it's hard to get that from a video,
or simply looking at an image.
Because architecture is so three-dimensional
and we have to experience the space around us.
And we have to feel
what does it feel like to be in that space.
- And the older these buildings get
and the more they're preserved,
the more they can give you a window into another time,
they can give you a window into a craftsmanship or ideas
that aren't there anymore.
- Saving selected vintage buildings
like the Emil Bach House is important
because it allows us to have a vision
of our collective identity.
Where did we come from?
What came before us?
And that's important because it helps us better understand
where we are now and where we might be going in the future.
- Jen] I think the fate of the Emil Bach House
wasn't always a given.
There was a time in history
when it would have been very easy to tear it down.
Right, the neighborhood is changing,
it's prime real estate, it would have been easy
to just tear it down and sell it and build
a new high rise.
- Growing up in Rogers Park as a little kid
on the way to the beach
there were two houses that you'd encounter.
So there was the Bach House,
but there also was the Steffen's house
that was at the corner of Howard street.
Oh, it looked so sad.
It had been made into a restaurant,
things had been changed, it looked pretty sorry.
But it still had a lot of power
and it sat proudly up on a bluff
and so you noticed that one too.
- That was happening a lot in this section of Roger's Park.
And those impression impact how we decide to save
and what we decide to keep.
- Restoring buildings gives you a window on the past
but restoring a Frank Lloyd Wright like the Emil Bach House
this is something where there is an ensemble
of color and finishes and presence and light and shadow.
And they all work together
to create this amazing, unique experience.
- It really begins with Wright in Chicago
and the millions of homes built across the US
that are still being built with open floor plans.
I mean, those ideas originate with Wright in Chicago.
- And where you can find a progression in Oak Park
and see him evolve over time,
through multiple buildings,
the window of Frank Lloyd Wright
around 1914 is relatively small.
So this is important.
And it's a great building.
- You can cherish the old along with the new
and it teaches us something about our development
as a people.
To be able to see how we've evolved
through the places that we live in
and work in and play in.
- Jane Feerer acquired the house through an auction.
- [Owen] At that time, I think the colonel
was asking 2.5 million for it.
The price of course subsequently was reduced
because of the loss of the Frank Lloyd Wright attributes.
- It was in pretty good shape, it was structurally sound,
there was nothing integrally wrong with the building.
After she bought the house at auction,
she asked me to be involved in the restoration.
Her plan was the bring it back as close as possible
to the original drawings and the original intent
of how the people actually lived in it 100 years ago.
- When I decided to do
as complete a restoration of the Bach House
as could possibly be achieved,
I knew that I needed to draw on a lot of resources.
The original plans for the house
that were out at Taliesin West,
were remarkably wonderful as a resource.
I used to say that my restoration architect
was Frank Lloyd Wright because we were restoring
to his original plan.
But what we didn't have
was the original construction contract.
Which specified all the materials
that were to be used in the house.
- One thing we did find with the original drawings
were the plans for some of the furniture
for example the dining room chairs.
There were six chairs, two with side arms
and four without.
And we were able to reproduce those based on the drawings
and make fluid in the project.
- The one thing I did have
that my parents had from Frank Lloyd Wright
they kept the chairs that they did have
in the Frank Lloyd Wright house
and I remember as a child,
A pair of 'em were sitting in my living room
and I just took for granted, they were just chairs
and when my mother mentioned
they were Frank Lloyd Wright chairs
my unknowledgeable attitude as a child was so what?
Who was Frank Lloyd Wright?
And they stayed with my parents for quite a while
until they did move from Chicago
and then they apparently sold them for $75.
- In the furniture also we see examples
of Wright using, especially in the dining,
Wright using the chairs and the furniture around
the table to create a smaller space within the room.
So he's thinking about the chair and how it relates
to the space, and how the space relates to the whole form
of the house.
So that's very typical of his furniture
of this time period.
May not always be the most comfortable,
but I think probably Wright was more interested
in aesthetics than in comfort.
- It's like sitting in a pew at church
sometime 100 years ago.
But I can't imagine an architect like Frank Lloyd Wright
- From the exterior architecture,
the sight, the structure, down the very furnishings
and fixtures of the house,
Wright exhibited a complete mastery of the environment
where he designed every element of the building.
So with the Bach House where you find this wonderful
built-in dining table,
that's all about Wright controlling the space
and creating this unified interior.
- From an artistic standpoint,
it acts as a horizontal plane
that connects the space that is the living room
with the space that is the dining room.
But what is so interesting here
is that I'm not aware of another case
where he used a dining room table
as a built-in, but had another function at its other end.
This was a great way of maximizing a very compact space
and yet making it, again, seem open.
- The dining room table was in the house,
or maybe I should say a table dining room table
that looked like the original was in the house.
One thing that was missing when we first came into the house
was the Inglenook in front of the fireplace.
As a signature piece of Frank Lloyd Wright
at the time in his houses.
We don't know when it was taken out,
we don't know what happened to it,
whether it was just destroyed or removed to some other
project or whatever.
But we were able to reconstruct it
from the original drawings.
- What was there when I first bought the house,
the wall sconces, they looked like they were from 1970s
When we started phase one,
there were originally three bedrooms and two baths.
The larger bath was the maid's room, originally
that had been converted.
The baths were finished in 70s type fixtures,
it was totally functional, but it certainly wasn't
anything like it was intended to look.
- Cheap brass things
and I was happy to replace them with something else.
- The kitchen had stock cabinets, I think they were pecan.
And there was no dividing wall
between the kitchen and the dining room.
At the time they had put like a breakfast counter there.
The back porch was totally enclosed,
it had been climatized,
it was originally meant to be a three season porch,
but somebody had changed it into a permanent room
so it was added to like an extra living room or den.
- One unusual thing about this house
is the basement, 'cause he was not a big fan of basements.
I don't know whether this is because
the box required additional space for storage
or whatever it was,
but there is a basement in this house.
- [Peter] Originally in the basement,
we know that there was a furnace
and in the front, there was a coal bin.
- My suspicion is that, you know,
in trying to keep the cost down,
and in also thinking about every compact floor plan,
you needed a space for the coal bin,
you needed a space for the washing machine
which would have been a new invention
that families could have purchased in the teens.
- But he was known to not really like basements
because he thought it was base
and that it was just a place for people to store stuff.
And he didn't like clutter,
he liked everything to have its place.
- Before we started, I actually got started on the first
phase of the restoration,
Jane Feerer received a letter
from Emil Bach's grandchildren.
- My daughter Robin was surfing on the internet
where there was a Bach house,
so she looked into it further
and the further she got into it found out
that that was my grandfather's house.
And so she got in contact with Jane Feerer
and did a lot of research on it.
- Owen Bach had never been in the house.
He knew some things from his father
who had basically grown up in the house.
- One of the things that my father did tell me
about living in the Frank Lloyd Wright house
was having Lake Michigan right in your backyard
where he was an avid swimmer
and he'd go out to Lake Michigan and swim
miles weekly to
just enjoy the sport of swimming.
- When the house was sold in 1933,
later Emil and Anna Bach moved to California.
And Theo Bach moved to Rockford.
And that's where the family
that's where Owen and Sally Bach live
and so they didn't have much connection
with the house after it was sold in '33.
- I think my dad was so disappointed
when that brickyard closed.
'cause here he was, kind of the golden heir
to the brickyard, being an only son.
And then lost everything.
- Kind of just closed a chapter of their lives
and moved on.
And so when they came to visit,
Owen and his family were discovering a place
they had never really known except anecdotally.
- I would consider myself very fortunate
to be able to be a part of this restoration project,
when we first met Jane at the Bach House,
I brought in the copies of the original specifications
which told of the mixtures of the cement,
the thickness of the cement,
the heights of various parts of the building.
Very very detailed specifications
to which the building was built.
- What kind of fasteners and what kind of concrete
and just the list goes on and on and on.
- Giving her these specifications,
you could tell by the look on her face,
she was very happy to get 'em
and was very happy to be able to actually know
that she was putting the house
back into its original condition.
- So, we had not only the list of things
as it should have been as it was originally conceived,
but then we had the document of the house itself.
How it ended up being constructed.
- In that letter, they said they had the original contract
for the building between Frank Lloyd Wright
and the Bach's and the contractor
with line item cost for the building
which was valuable and interesting.
There were also a few letters
between Mrs. Bach and Mr. Wright.
- One day my grandmother was looking out her window
and my grandmother was not one
that would really pass things over,
and saw this shabby man in her backyard,
pulling her flowers out of her vases.
And if you ever wanna get a woman mad,
you go out and pull the flowers
out of her vases that she had planted.
And with her wrath, goes out there,
ready to confront the individual,
and it turned out it was Frank Lloyd Wright,
who promptly lectured her about how these kind
of flowers don't belong in this kind of building.
- Frank Lloyd Wright didn't always have the easiest
relationships with his clients.
He, I think, looked at every project
just as so much of an investment of his heart
and his ideas that he, maybe in some cases,
overstepped those boundaries
between architect and client,
wanting to really impose a full, total work of art on them.
And sometimes it's hard to live in a
total work of art.
- You know, he wanted to make sure
everything worked right.
He was very very opinionated,
very very headstrong,
but he was very very firm in his commitment
that his houses were the best.
He certainly pushed his clients in ways
that, in some cases, they may not have been comfortable
with in terms of pushing particular form
or pushing particular design,
but I think the types of clients that came to Wright,
knew what they were getting
and wanted that, and wanted a modern home
and wanted something different.
And so, I think, the types of clients
that found Wright were for the most part a good fit,
but he certainly pushed them.
- And I would imagine there was some friction created
between the two of them.
And this probably was a temporary friction
because obviously they had a good relationship after
the house was built and Frank Lloyd Wright
went on to other things.
- But without the documentation
that Owen Bach brought
when he visited we would have been six steps back.
And we would have had to make guesses
about a lot of stuff.
And underneath a lot of the renovations
that had happened in the interim period
between the time the Bachs lived there
and the time I bought it,
a lot of the original stuff was covered up.
- One of the things that we had a bit of a stroke
of luck right at the beginning
was when we were doing the demolition
of the kitchen counter that had been built,
underneath it was an original kitchen cabinet,
and it was in very good shape.
We were able to get the exact finishes,
the exact type of wood, American walnut,
the exact profiles for the door itself.
By matching that up with the original drawings,
we were able to make a very exact reproduction
of the entire kitchen.
- When we uncovered some of the later coverings,
the marble and the paneling over this area or that,
we found original material.
So we were able to see what had been going on
in the house through all of those years.
When I left Chicago,
or when I was preparing to leave Chicago,
I was fortunate enough to be able to pick the person
who was going to succeed me.
- Older houses require more in-depth research.
And again from an architect of
Peder Dalhberg's experience,
he's also one of the people who's uniquely qualified
to put this house in context,
and he's a nice guy.
- [Jane] In hiring Gunny Harboe, made a good choice.
Retaining Peder Dahlberg
as the project manager was important
and working with the same group of people
to do a lot of the construction work
made it possible for a whole team basically to carry forward
the work that I started.
But it's not just my work, it's the accumulated work
of all of the people who have lived in that house
since it was built 100 years ago.
- Our involvement with the Frank Lloyd Wright trust
in many ways comes for the same reason anyone does,
the Frank Lloyd Wright trust,
they have a mission of perpetuating the legacy
of Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural designs.
So that means anyone who has an interest
in Frank Lloyd Wright architecture
and the man himself, that's the go-to place.
- The trust was invited in by Tawani very early on
in this project and it was brought in to help
with early research on the house.
But one of the major roles that it's played
in the restoration of the building,
the vision for the building,
we were an early advocate for opening up
the porch on the second floor of the house.
- The rooms that had been created out of the porch,
the screened porch on the sundeck,
were in find condition,
they'd been renovated as part of the phase one work here,
but they were in direct conflict with the intent
of trying to return the building to its 1915 configuration.
- In Wright's architecture,
there is this very close connection
between the interior of the house
and the world of nature outside,
and that restoration of the porch
was an incredibly important element
in restoring Wright's original vision for this building.
- One of the things that so fun about this house
and was really great about being able to play
with the restoration or be able to finish the restoration
was this interface of the banding
of the horizontal wooden elements.
There are a lot of wood elements
that are cantilevered off,
that are also accentuating nature.
They wrap the building completely around.
And by being able to return the sun deck
back to what it was now that conflicting
attitude of going up versus going out
is helped to be mitigated.
- For the visitors and guests of this house,
to be able to experience that
is an incredibly wonderful thing.
- So in restoring the outside of the house,
we had to deal with the concrete elements
of which there's both horizontal surfaces,
with concrete sidewalk, if you will.
But also as part of the house,
there are these horizontal bands
that have become an important architectural element
that needed to also be restored.
It's a rather fussy process
that required a very special mix of material,
Cementitious material that has to be applied,
which some of it took a while to do
but we think they came quite close.
That became a very important process
for the part of the restoration.
It took quite a while to actually accomplish.
You can see this element, this horizontal element
not only on the outside of the house,
but actually comes into the inside of the house,
and is part of the masonry fireplace
that was such an important element of the house.
- You'll also find with Wright's houses
this tremendous connection
between interior and exterior.
So you get this blurring of boundaries
with Wright's buildings,
this close integration with the outside of the house
with the inside.
And that's what you see with the Bach House
- You have this connection again
from the inside to the outside of the house
through the actual physical elements of the house.
When we became involved in the house,
our primary focus was on the exterior of the house,
but we also knew there were some things
on the interior that we wanted to understand
a little better and maybe work on.
One of those was the plaster
and the paint finish on the plaster.
As was true for Wright in this whole period,
this prairie style period,
the way that he treated the interior surfaces
was extremely important to him.
So we knew from correspondences
between the Bachs and Wright
that there had been this discussion
of the color of the walls
that was referred to as sunshine yellow.
But what was sunshine yellow,
we weren't exactly sure of that.
In the course of our investigation in the house,
there was very little remnant of original plaster,
there were a few fragment pieces,
in fact Tim Samuelson is the cultural historian
of the city of Chicago knew this house from his youth,
he grew up very close to here,
and when they were doing the major renovation of the house
where they removed, basically all the plaster,
he was able to secure a number of samples
of that that were useful to us.
- One time I was in the house, it was being remodeled
I was actually invited inside,
and much to my horror, they were taking out
the original plaster off the walls.
There were people with sledge hammers
breaking out the original sand float plaster
and they were replacing it with flat drywall.
So I said to the people who were doing it,
I said, "do you really wanna do that?
"I mean, that's important original plaster,"
and they basically told me "Mind your own business."
well, I did reach over, pick up a piece of the plaster,
and saved it, I thought "well, maybe some day
"somebody will restore it, but what's the chances of that
"after somebody goes to all the work
"of putting in this new drywall?"
So I kept it for years and it sat in a drawer,
and then sure enough, what do you know?
A restoration's underway, I pull out my piece of plaster
and it turns out to give the information
not only on the texture, but the first layer of color
is what Mrs. Bach described in the letter as sunshine.
And sure enough there's this beautiful, yellow shining
So, I was very happy that this one little thing
that I put in my pocket at my dismay at it getting torn out
wound up having a part in putting
the house back together again.
- When we opened up the ceiling in the living room,
we found some original plaster,
but it'd just been covered up with drywall.
And that gave up a clear idea
of what the plaster finished looked like
in the rest of the house.
Later on we were able to corroborate that
with some plaster samples
that Tim Samuelson had saved previously.
- [Gunny] Then when we discovered
on the second floor bedroom there was an entire
four by six foot area of the original plaster
with its original paint on it,
this was extremely helpful to us.
- [Peder] We took samples of the plaster,
it was sent for analysis and they told us
what size aggregate was used in the mix.
Part of the original drawings had the original specs
for the plaster.
So we had a good idea on how it was.
- [Gunny] We could tell from that that it was this
sand float plaster that had a lot of life to it.
- [Peder] Now how that texture was developed
was a little different because it can vary
from tradesman to tradesman, who's ever doing it.
So, what we did was
we made half a dozen samples of each
of the wall and half a dozen samples of the ceiling.
- The ceilings are basically the untreated plaster,
it's just the buff gray color of the matrix
with the sand in it, with the texture
and that's it, there's nothing on it.
And that was his intent.
- [Peder] Once we had determined the exact finishes
we wanted for the ceilings and the walls,
the whole plaster process took about 10 weeks.
- So it's the combination of the plaster itself
with this very thin paint coating
that gives you the life that is really vibrant
and extremely engaging
I think on this house,
and other properties by Wright at the same time.
- So, finding the cabinet door
hidden underneath the breakfast bar,
the plaster samples on the ceiling
and on the second floor wall
and the color, I think those three things
were very key in allowing us to bring the level
of restoration to where we wanted it.
- The built-in furniture that's upstairs
we knew from the original drawings
that there had been this intent
of having some built-ins,
but there was nothing left, at least to the eye
when we got in the house,
you couldn't see any physical remains of that.
So we weren't all that hopeful to find anything
and yet, lo and behold in the course
of the early exploratory work that was done,
it revealed itself in one of the bedrooms upstairs
that not only was the original plaster wall there
which was really important to us,
but it had the shadows of where the drawers had been
of the built-in dresser.
And so then, we knew ah ha, there's absolute proof
that they actually built the built-ins.
In the main, central bedroom,
there's a built-in dresser
that has five or six drawers and the mirror above it.
The north bedroom, there is a small, little alcove
I'll call it, this little jut-out
where there's a small desk, a writing desk
that has no more room than for one person
to barely squeeze in there.
And on the south bedroom there is a rather beautiful
dressing table that had elaborate drawers
and things like that as well as a three part mirror.
- One of the major, major items
that was missing in the building
when Jane first secured it
were the art glass windows on the outside.
Now of course the piece of art glass
that was in the Inglenook.
- The previous owner named James Blinder
had had the house and he did a lot of work
on the house, and he I don't know the exact reasoning,
but at one point he remove the art glass windows.
- [Peder] He kept one of the windows for himself,
he kept one of the art glasses that was installed
in the Inglenook, and he gave one to the Art Institute.
It's very lucky, 'cause they might have been lost
if they hadn't been.
- We knew that there was the one at the Art Institute
and we had hope to be able to get access to that,
that was a little bit challenging
because it's an important artifact for them,
and they didn't want us groping their
art glass window necessarily.
But we did get in touch with James Blinder
who was very interested in the project
and was very happy to share with us access to his window.
- So the four of them were restored
and one's at the Art Institute,
one I have, and one's up in Canada,
and the other one's floating
around the east coast somewhere.
- Maybe the other two had already disappeared,
I don't know, but there originally were six.
And these are the windows that have a pattern in them.
It's very light, it's not a heavy
art glass pattern like one associates
with Wright's earlier prairie style houses.
And in fact, all the rest of the windows
either had no pattern at all
or they had a very simple boarder of clear glass
just to give it a little bit of accent.
- If we didn't find the original from you,
we wouldn't have been able
to get the exact dimensions for it, so. (laughing)
- Well, I have the original
and one of the original art glass windows.
- I'd love to hear about that.
- Well, it's there.
It's in my apartment. - is it?
- In the course of trying to recreate
the art glass windows,
we had these examples we knew we could
have access to to gain a direct
one to one copy, if you will of what they had been there.
And part of that process is to actually
take a rubbing of the caming of the metal material
that's actually holding the glass together.
- [Peder] The craftsman who replicated the art glass
started by making a rubbing with tracing paper
to get the shapes and the sizes exactly.
- [Gunny] You get then, the direct relationship
of void to caming, and you can measure off of that
exactly where the caming is or was on the window
and replicate it precisely.
- [Peder] After getting the rubbings
and the shape and size of the art glass,
the next big thing is matching the color.
- This is the inside, so the outside was white?
- You don't really see the colors from the outside?
- That's not unusual.
- We did have the quality of the glass
and the way the glass looks from the inside
to the outside varied
and we wanted to make sure we were matching that
as closely as possible.
This is often a challenge on these period windows
where the art glass that was used at the time
is not available anymore.
- Since those colors of glass
was made 100 years ago,
it was a pretty difficult process.
- Especially some of the specific colors.
We had white glass, you'd think white glass
would be an easy match but in fact
it proved to be rather challenging
to get a very close match to the white glass
as well as the green glass that was used on this
particular house, but we came very very close.
- Very nice.
- We don't know exactly how they made the colors
so it's a trial and error trying to get as close
as we can, some of the processes we don't even use anymore.
After multiple tries,
we finally got pretty good sample of the colors.
At least they matched as well as they possibly could.
- We feel that the windows that are here
reflect very closely the original intent
that Wright had created with his art glass windows.
- Oh, this is remarkable.
- One interesting thing though
is when we finally looked at Mr. Blinder's original piece,
when he had taken it out of the house,
he just took it out and didn't clean it,
didn't restain it, didn't do anything to it,
just took it and hung it on his wall in his apartment
and it's exactly the way it was when he left the house.
His original one is a bit different
from the one that the Art Institute has.
- When they restored it, they left out this caming
right here, - really?
- There's a big space there.
And they left out this piece here.
- Well, that attests to the fact
that the window was in bad condition.
(laughing) It really was.
And it must have fallen out and they just...
- They just put together to hold.
- Right, right. - Sure when they got it,
maybe it was just falling apart,
those were the pieces that they had,
so they put it back together.
- Well that explains that.
It looks like the Art Institute piece
might be missing a piece of glass
in the lower half.
There's a little bit more caming in Mr. Blinder's
original piece than the one
that exists in the Art Institute.
- By the time we got to the Bach House in 1915,
the element of art glass is not as prominent
as it was in some of these earlier prairie houses.
In this house it's quite simple.
Maybe it was a cost issue,
'cause they were expensive to make then
as they are now.
- The art glass is very different.
We don't see it here on the first floor,
we see it on the second floor.
And only in strategic corners
or strategic places.
It's also not as colorful.
It's much clearer with just bits of color
used in very strategic ways.
- I think, also he was moving away from that,
if you will, as far as using it as an architectural element
And in the case of the Bach House
many of the windows had absolutely no metal caming
that separated pieces of glass.
Whether they were clear or otherwise
and some windows have just a very simple pattern,
but no colored glass, just clear class.
This is the end of that period of his interest
in that element.
- [Tim] What's great now is that after all those years
and seeing like the leaded glass windows disappear,
now they're back.
But now with what I've learned
and I know later, I can really appreciate it even more.
So to see the windows back
and the details and the colors and even things
I never saw as a kid because wood was painted over,
plaster was painted over.
But seeing it as it really is,
what an experience.
Just like seeing a whole new house.
- The Emil Bach House is a masterful example
of the historic preservation.
The amount of work that goes into restoring a building
like this is incredible.
From the architect's documentation,
the research of the building,
through to exploring paint finishes,
original wood finishes, the types of materials
that Wright selected to use throughout the house,
all of this material goes to create
an incredibly rich archive about the house.
- We were just very fortunate to get here at the right time
with the right people, to do the right thing for this house.
- When we think about preservation,
one of the most important issues
that comes up a lot is this idea of adaptive reuse.
Can we save the building
but maybe convert it to something else,
so it has a second life, a different use,
a different function.
The Emil Bach House I think is an example of that, right?
It's been preserved and it's been restored.
And it's beautiful and you can visit it.
You can visit it through Open House Chicago
when it's open in October
or you can also say here for a night or two
for an overnight stay.
- But I think even the thing that sets
this restoration above almost any other
is yes the house is like perfect,
yes it's a great work of architecture,
but it's still a real house.
You can stay in it as a real house
and let it do all the things
that a real house does to you that's a work of art.
- I think the multiple uses
that the Bach House has been put to of late
is a very creative response to this challenge
for a great work of architecture
in a setting that is no longer gonna be for a residence.
- One of those successes, we think,
with the house is the fact
that we're not only able to restore
its appearance, to what it looked like in 1915,
but also making a house that can function
as a house needs to in the 21st century
with it's geothermal system.
The furnishings in the house
are contemporary furnishings that are playful
and they fit in with the architecture
but they're not right in Wrightian in the sense.
So there's this combination of authentic, true Wright
qualities about it that you can enjoy and see
and touch and feel and experience,
but also you can be comfortable in this house.
- I think it was a very nice thing for colonel Pritzker
to take this project.
To undertake it, to bring back the reality
of what was in the past.
I know it was a tremendous undertaking,
not only financially, but
to all the other resources that were put into the building
to make it what it is now.
- And I think from what I know of Frank Lloyd Wright
as human, I think this is what he would have wanted.
He never intended, I think, for any of his buildings
to remain as static display items only.
He built them to be used.
So I think what we are doing, everything that we have done,
I think is consistent with his original vision.
I'm very confident of that.
Now we'll see if I'm right or not. (chuckling)
- For more information about Frank Lloyd Wright's
Emil Bach House, visit www.emilbachhouse.com