This morning Dr. Jay and I packed up the toddler and traveled a few miles south to a little architectural gem that’s been on our list to visit for a while, the Pope-Leighey House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I realized once we were there that it was my first time in a FLW house- a big deal for me.
The house was originally built in 1940, commissioned by Loren Pope and his family. It was first located in Falls Church, and the family lived there for about five years until they needed a larger home for their expanding brood (the house is only about 1200 square feet). Mrs. Marjorie Leighey was the second owner and lived in the home until 1964 when it was condemned to be torn down by the oncoming expansion of Route 66. Mrs. Leighey struck a deal with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the house was moved (sort of) to its current location in south Alexandria, the grounds of Woodlawn Plantation. She was permitted to continue occupying the house and did so until her death in the early 1980s. In 1996 the house was again moved, but just 60 feet from its previous spot so as to more accurately portray what the original site orientation would have been.
Our tour was given by C.J. Lamora, a local designer and devotee of Frank Lloyd Wright. He stressed that the house is a prime example of FLW’s Usonian house ideal, the concept being that the house is modest in size so as to be affordable for American families, efficient in design and well-sited for the surrounding environment. FLW relied on three major materials: brick, cypress wood and concrete.
He also used these geometric cut-out shapes as a motif throughout the house at the clerestory level, a theme fairly common in the Usonian houses.
We weren’t permitted to take photos inside (major bummer) but I’ll share some photos I took of the exterior and talk more about the interior with some images I’ve gathered from the world wide web.
You can see the deep overhangs, typical of a FLW design. I was once told that these serve to limit the amount glare from the sun in that particular site line, so that you would have a more even view of the horizon.
Spring was out in bloom today.
I loved the use of built-in planters around the house.
As our tour guide mentioned, you can see the strong use of horizontals throughout the house. This is part of Wright’s ideals of connection to the land. There is a 6’8” datum line for most of the ceilings (doors reach this datum line as well) that serves to reinforce a human scale and make the spaces seem more intimate. In this house, it is broken only in the living room, where the space expands and light from the south facing wall fills the room.
Photo of the living room found online:
Original drawing of the plan:
Here’s a link to more interior photos, which seem to be protected so that I can’t reproduce them here.
While flipping through one of my books on Frank Lloyd Wright, I found that there was an article written by Mr. Pope (a journalist in Washington D.C.) in House Beautiful in which he praised Wright’s efficient design for the home. Because this article was so well-written and widely read across the country, it served to catapult Wright’s popularity and gain him clients at the end of the WWII and into the 1950s.
We enjoyed the short tour and ability to walk around the beautiful landscape in spring. I definitely recommend a trip to the Pope-Leighey house if you are in the area and appreciate historic architecture or just want to be inspired by Wright’s work, as I was today.