Frank Lloyd Wright's Coonley House: Good Things Happen when Architecture, Landscape and Art Get Along

Here in Brisbane there’s no denying that spring is well and truly upon us. The sky is almost unfeasibly blue, creating the kind of days that make me think 'Meh, you can keep New York, coz it ain't got this'. The sun is still invitingly warm, rather than blistering, and there is a general air of, well, perkiness about the place.

There’s an urge at home to throw open the windows and let in the fresh air, or to get out and do things in the garden.

To give you that little extra push in the right direction, and really get your design juices flowing, today we’re got a super-charged dose of architecture, garden design and integrated art.

So without any further ado, welcome to the Avery Coonley House, by two absolute design heavyweights: the building by Frank Lloyd Wright, and the garden by Jens Jensen.

The house dates from 1908, when it was built on a 4-hectare site in Riverside, outside Chicago.

 Coonley Road (naturally) in lush, swirling Riverside. The signature flower-filled urn marks the entry to the house.

Coonley Road (naturally) in lush, swirling Riverside. The signature flower-filled urn marks the entry to the house.

The estate contained an e-nor-mous main house, an equally impressive bedroom wing, a separate gardener’s cottage and a coach house and stables building. All were designed in Wright’s signature Prairie style, with long, low buildings hunkered down under horizontal roofs, walls reaching out to enclose courtyards and garden spaces, and beautiful details and moments of delight throughout. 

Sadly the Coonley House fell on hard times, and in the 1950s was bought by a developer whose plans for demolition were thwarted in the nick of time.

Following this the property was divided into four separate residences. One was in the coach house:

 Approaching the coach house.

Approaching the coach house.

 Its recreated Jens Jensen garden.

Its recreated Jens Jensen garden.

 The house sits back from the street, behind richly inviting plantings.

The house sits back from the street, behind richly inviting plantings.

The second house occupied the gardener's cottage; the third, the main house/living wing: 

And the fourth one was in the bedroom wing, which was separated from the main house.

Fast-forward another half a century to 2001, when the main house had the extreme good fortune to be bought by Dean and Ella Mae Eastman. Following a stellar career in physics, largely spent at IBM, and then academia, Dean Eastman threw himself (and a not insignificant amount of his hard-earned cash) into a painstaking restoration of the Coonley House.

 Another enveloping garden shields the house, hiding it in plain view.

Another enveloping garden shields the house, hiding it in plain view.

 On the long walk from the street, the house barely hints at its many delights.

On the long walk from the street, the house barely hints at its many delights.

 The lily pond was restored, having been converted into a swimming pool.

The lily pond was restored, having been converted into a swimming pool.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Coonley House a few years ago, and I have to admit it was one of those experiences that you can’t fully take in at the time. We were asked not to photograph inside the house, but if you want to nosy inside, enjoying the restored murals, windows and much more, then check out this short real estate video made at the time the Eastmans were selling up. (They moved right next door, into the coach house!)

Health Warning: if you suffer easily from house envy or architecture envy, it might be best to avoid. I can't watch it without wanting to move in straight away!

But even without peeking inside, I reckon there’s more than enough in the exterior and gardens of the Coonley House to keep you intrigued, delighted and inspired. Enjoy!

 How lovely is this garden seat, integrated into the screen and roof structure.

How lovely is this garden seat, integrated into the screen and roof structure.

 Light play through the overhead trellises.

Light play through the overhead trellises.

 Frames support climbing plants.

Frames support climbing plants.

 Cast light sconce? Yes, please.

Cast light sconce? Yes, please.

 And it's even better up close.

And it's even better up close.

 The terrace at the main house overlooks the lily pond.

The terrace at the main house overlooks the lily pond.

 Exquisitely detailed trellis structure above the main living level.

Exquisitely detailed trellis structure above the main living level.

 The low, shady terrace trellis opens up to the landscape beyond.

The low, shady terrace trellis opens up to the landscape beyond.

 The upper trellis sits above the terrace outside the main living room. One of Wright's innovations in this house was to raise the living areas above the ground level, exploiting the views out to the wider landscape.

The upper trellis sits above the terrace outside the main living room. One of Wright's innovations in this house was to raise the living areas above the ground level, exploiting the views out to the wider landscape.

 Shadows!

Shadows!

 They don't make 'em like this anymore: finials above the main house.

They don't make 'em like this anymore: finials above the main house.

 The wonderful textured mural at the entry to the house.

The wonderful textured mural at the entry to the house.

 ...and up close. It is no understatement to say I love this!

...and up close. It is no understatement to say I love this!

So there you have it: a pocket tour of the wonderful Coonley House. What did you think?

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Enjoy dipping your toe into spring, and catch you soon for another inspirational landscape.