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How Frank Lloyd Wright Influenced Our Tiny House Design

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I just got home from a week long South Western vacation. The entire week was topped off by a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, Taliesin West.

I started studying Frank Lloyd Wright in college. It was something that Matt and I had in common before we started dating a billion years ago. While we were still both at school we would often travel to Frank Lloyd Wright buildings local to Kalamazoo, Michigan (there are quite a few, surprisingly). We’ve been all over the country to see his buildings: Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania. Now I can add Arizona to my list.

Related: Students Design Build Unique Tiny Dorm Cabins at Frank Lloyd Wright Arch School

FLW's home in Scottsdale, AZ. Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

FLW’s home in Scottsdale, AZ. Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

His buildings had a greater impact on me than I had even realized. Click below to read more.

It has been a while, though. The southeast, where I live, is sadly lacking in Wright creations and after we moved down here it was harder find them. The last one we went to see was the Guggenheim Museum in New York City on weekend in August 2005.

Returning to a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home last week reminded me what I fell in love with his work to begin with. FLW himself was a deeply flawed man and his hubris was well known. He referred to himself as the greatest architect in history; but was he wrong?

Sure, his two personal estates are expansive and palatial but there was more to him than that. In fact, when you tour Taliesin West it comes across as a series of smaller structures built together into the brow of the hill rather than one giant mansion.

Many of FLW’s ideas have permeated tiny house culture. The Usonia Homes, for instance, were imagined to be affordable and practical homes for the American middle class of the 20s and 30s. These small houses were only one story where the kitchen and living area were open to one another and the floor featured radiant heating. These are ideas that tiny house builders use frequently in their designs for sustainable small homes. However, what Wright considered “affordable” and what the general public were willing to spend on homes was a vastly different number. Not many of these homes were built.

How Frank Lloyd Wright Impacted Our Tiny House Design

I didn’t realized how much the philosophy of Frank Lloyd Wright had become part of my own subconscious until we went to Taliesin West. Taliesin means “shining brow” in Welsh and Wright specifically built his two Taliesin estates into what he referred to as the brow of the hill. He blended them into the landscape rather than perching them on top of the hill. Without even thinking about it this is precisely what we did with our tiny house. We didn’t build it at the top of our ridge or at the road but rather placed perfectly in a clearing about halfway up. We choose a color palate that fit the Appalachian landscape. We angled the house to mimic the angle of the mountain range.

My Tiny House in the Smoky Mountains. Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

My Tiny House in the Smoky Mountains. Photo by Laura M. LaVoie

There are many great architects throughout history but I would argue that few made as much of an impact, both positive and negative, as Frank Lloyd Wright. His principles and ideas are still in practice today even when we don’t realize they were his designs. He was certainly an inspiration for my own project. Who was or is your tiny house inspiration?

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Laura LaVoie

Contributor and Tiny House Owner at 120SquareFeet.com
Laura M. LaVoie is a professional writer living in the mountains of North Carolina in a 120 Square Foot house with her partner and their hairless cat, Piglet. Laura graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Anthropology. She has been published in magazines and anthologies on the subjects of mythology and culture. She spent nearly 15 years in the temporary staffing industry before deciding to become a full time writer. Laura works closely with the Zulu Orphan Alliance volunteering her time and the skills she's learned building her own small house to build a shelter for orphans and other vulnerable children living near Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Laura also enjoys simple living, brewing and drinking craft beer, and popular culture.
{ 8 comments… add one }
  • sunshineandrain
    April 5, 2013, 9:22 pm

    I know nothing of the man, but his designs are incredible. We have many FLW designed and styled buildings and homes in Oklahoma. His designs are certainly incorporated into my Tiny House design. Thanks for the article.

  • LaMar
    April 6, 2013, 4:27 pm

    Lots of the designers like Wright out there that focus on the aesthetics of a house over the functionality. You can have both and while I like to look at these designs- from a finacial point of view any thing aesthetic is going to add to the cost of the house and unless you are looking at reselling it would be better to focus on functionality and put yur extra money into alternate power and water systems that will pay you back in no or low utility costs.

    You can have a nice looking home that is very functional without a professional designer and I am more attracted to a unique design that is super sustainable and functional over aesthetics.

    You also should match the house to the environment and climate. For example we had a guy build a solar home with huge glass windows and it was all the rage of the town until it became an oven in summer and they had to remove and block most of the windows. Beautiful house but built for the wrong climate. JMO


    • Paul
      October 30, 2014, 8:48 am

      Architect Alex Wade who was an early proponent of people building their own homes had a saying that has become a favourite of mine. Form follows function.

      Prettiness is all very well, but if it doesn’t function well then you are going to be pretty well unhappy with it.


  • jerryd
    April 6, 2013, 9:28 pm

    Some of the best FLW buildings are in the SE at Fla Southern College where a lot of the Campus buildings are his including great walkways, etc. Many of them don’t even leak ;^P

    Not that big a fan of his as his visions didn’t work very well. He was too much ego and not enough though for the people who had/have to live in them.

    His are more art than good buildings where I rather have something that is more useful, not a costly bear to heat, cool and not having to keep repairing.

  • conrad brown
    April 8, 2013, 6:31 am

    Love your website. I have a new book just out, Chasing FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT, a memoir of trying to understand his principals and how to apply those principals to my life. This memoir is for anyone wanting more from architecture, like yourself. If you would review the book, I’ll send you a copy. Again, love your website, it “speaks!”

    • April 8, 2013, 8:57 am

      Hi Conrad. I would be very interested in checking out your book. Please email me directly at lmlavoie [at] gmail [dot] com

  • Bo D.
    October 29, 2014, 4:25 pm

    Jerryd is correct. I am a graduate from Florida Southern College in Lakeland Florida. The school proudly boasts one of the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. The school has also won numerous awards for the beautiful campus. When in Florida, if you are interested in FLW architecture, a tour of the campus would be worth the effort.

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