Liliane Kaufmann loved margaritas, Chesterfields and Fallingwater, her country house built on top of a waterfall. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it was a retreat only a couple of hours away from her Pittsburgh home but light years away in concept.
Liliane’s husband, E.J. Kaufmann, owned Kaufmann’s Department Store and the site of Fallingwater was once a summer camp for store employees; at the time, one of the out buildings was known as Hangover. (Kaufmann was no slouch when it came to building a strong work force.)
In 1933, the Kaufmanns decided to reclaim the site for a private home. First and foremost, they wanted a place to embrace and pay homage to the beautiful natural setting. Wright’s signature style was established and his reputation for uniting buildings with the natural world was also well-known.
The architect and clients formed a collaboration that resulted in an astonishing house.
Put the house across from the waterfalls? No. Way too conventional. Site the house right beside the falls? Yawn. No. We are going to build this place right over the falls.
After that decision, in 3 years the house was built by hand from the surrounding sand, stone and soil of the hillsides. The walls are stacked stone, all of the floors in the house are stone slate and the terraces are poured concrete.
Seventy years after it was finished, Fallingwater is a National Historic Landmark entrusted to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy; 135,000 tourists visit annually. Visitors can tour all three floors as well as the guest house; the family’s furniture and art work are still in place giving the sense that Liliane Kaufmann might show up at any moment.