Sitting on the Arkansas River, Wichita is the largest city in Kansas and has its roots as a 1860s trading post on the Chisholm Trail. As the largest city in Kansas, it is the center of culture with universities, museums, parks, theaters, and one very special attraction: the Frank Lloyd Wright Allen house.
Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the most important architects of the 20th century. His works and style are unmistakable. During his lifetime he designed more than 1,000 structures; some private homes like “Fallingwater,” and some are public structures like the Guggenheim Museum.
The Allen House is the only home Frank Lloyd Wright designed in Kansas. For fans of his architecture, there is a second Frank Lloyd Wright designed example on the Wichita State University’s campus; the Corbin Education Center.
Frank Lloyd Wright Allen House Museum
Completed in 1918, the historic Allen House, now called the Frank Lloyd Wright Allen House Museum and Study Center, is the only Frank Lloyd Wright home built in Kansas. Located at 225 North Roosevelt in Wichita KS, the house was built for Henry Allen and his wife, Elise. Mr. Allen was a senator, a two-term governor, and a newspaperman.
The house was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the building of the Frank Lloyd Wright Allen House.
Prairie School Architecture
One thing that makes this house particularly important is that it was one of the last houses that Wright built in what is called the “prairie school” style.
Because so many of his early works were designed in this style, it is important to understand what the “prairie school” style means. The “prairie school” style was a late 19th century and early 20th-century architectural style with the following characteristics:
- Horizontal lines
- A flat or hipped roof
- Broad overhanging eaves
- Windows that are grouped in horizontal bands
- An attempt at integration with the landscape referred to as “organic architecture” by Wright
- Earth Tones
- A blending of the exterior and the interior of the structure
- Extraordinary craftsmanship.
It can be said that the “prairie style” and the “Arts and Crafts Movement” styles both emphasized handcrafting and craftsmanship that developed as a reaction to the “assembly line” mass production of many houses in this period. Wright wanted American house designers to stop borrowing elements from European architecture.
Looking at the Allen house from the outside you first notice the long horizontal line that stretches far from the left of the house to far beyond the right of the house. This long line separates the first and second floor. You also notice, in addition to the bricks, the unusual four-sided hip roof. It is a Japanese style brick tile roof. Wright used this design because he was working on designing the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo at the same time.
Wright thought of everything and designed for everything. He believed that “form and function are one,” which means that the structure and its use deserve respect.
As you move inside, you realize that the Allen house is truly a luxurious Wright house. He loved creature comforts: there are five fireplaces and five bathrooms (at this time in history the average house had one bath or one and a half baths).
Wright and George Mann Niedecken designed some 30 pieces of furniture specifically for the Allen house. All of the furniture is made of American walnut, and all of the “art glass” is original. Frank Lloyd Wright windows or ‘stained glass’ are another signature element in his home designs.
The house was built to “compress and release.” This means that as you leave one room it gets architecturally smaller. And at the same time, the room you are entering gets bigger: this is the “release.”
The house is dramatic in a number of ways. With the use of brick, the outside surroundings are brought inside. The living room was built so that it feels as if it extends to the outdoor patio and farther to the garden: this makes the living room seem even bigger than it is.
One of the most noticeable components of Wright’s houses, including the Allen house, is his signature use of horizontal lines. What was so important about horizontal lines to Wright? It is because the horizontal lines of his structures mirrored the wide and flat prairie land of America’s landscape.
Here are some of the details of the Allen house that show how Wright was a forward thinker:
- A two car attached garage (attached garages did not exist before this time in architectural history)
- A heated garage floor because cars at this time were started by a hand crank (the heated floor made it easier to start a car)
- A partial basement, an element that Wright did not usually add
- A central vacuum system designed by Wright
- A security system which was very rare at the time this house was built
- A hidden gutter system which made the exterior more meticulous
- Full radiant heat
- Wall-hung water closets.
Here are some other things that make the Allen house a special Wright-designed structure:
- The sofa in this house is one of two original Wright sofas in the world (the other sofa is in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City)
- This sofa has an end table attached to each end which is what makes it quite unique
- The light fixtures in the study mimic the lines of the roof in miniature
- The masonry wall joints are covered in gold leaf.
The first floor contains:
- An entryway or reception hall
- A powder room
- The dining room with a table that, with five leaves, can accommodate twelve diners
- Above each of the twelve dining chairs, there is a wood-framed art-glass lighting panel
- The living room looking out over the patio and garden with its enclosed lily pond
- The kitchen
- A butler pantry
- The maid’s room
- A kitchen bathroom
- Two car garage (which is now a gift shop)
The second floor consists of:
- The master bedroom
- Mr. Allen’s study
- Mrs. Allen’s boudoir and bedroom
- The maid’s room
- A guest room
- Three bathrooms
- A circulation gallery overlooking the water garden
“An attempt at integration with the landscape” simply means that he wanted his designs to be in harmony with nature and the area surrounding the structure. In his belief that a house should be a companion to the horizon, he used straight lines to echo the American prairie, and, as seen in the Allen house, he used all natural materials including three colors of brick to blend nature and its surroundings to achieve one of his last and greatest “prairie style” houses.
The tour of the Allen house has been described as one of the top ten of Wright home tours because of its restored condition and the great number of original furnishings. Some professionals describe the Allen house living room as “one of the great rooms of the 20th century.”
Here is a blueprint of the layout of the Frank Lloyd Wright house plans for anyone who wants a deeper look at the house.
Wright considered the Allen house to be “among my best.”
To visit the Allen House you must take one of the guided tours (and reservations are recommended). The tour of the Allen house is the best way to see all of the details that show he was very much ahead of his time. The Allen House Foundation offers several guided tours that are quite informative:
- The Basic Guided Tour ($18) is a one-hour walking tour with views and explanations of the main features of the house
- The In-Depth Tour ($22) in which visitors see more of the house and its details
- The Grand Tour ($40) is a two to three-hour tour in which visitors are provided more information about Wright and his architecture (this tour is the only one that offers access to the garden house)
- The Moonlight Tour ($20) allows visitors to experience the Allen house as it is enhanced by its original lighting
You can learn more about the Frank Lloyd Wright Allen house and other fun things to do in Wichita at the Visit Wichita website.
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