How Frank Lloyd Wright Home Trees Became Furniture

 

By Steve Skorup

As an architecture teacher for 25 years at a suburban high school I would take my class to tour the Frank Lloyd Wright house and studio in Oak Park and a Habitat for Humanity home each year.

I wanted my students to be familiar with one of the world’s most famous architects and also to know where his career and the Prairie Style design developed. We visited the HFH site so they could also see affordable housing and how it meets client’s needs. In 2015 while at the FLW house I noticed an American Elm tree in front of the house had the “white dot of death” on it, meaning it was diseased and about to be removed.  I talked to the grounds care taker and he said it was the city’s responsibility since it was in the parkway.

Oak Park is a Tree City and keeps track of all its tree removals, replacements, and maintenance. I called city hall and explained about urban logging and about a higher usage of this resource. The person I spoke to said that Oak Park subcontracted large tree removal. I called the tree removal company and he said they would be removing the tree and selling it to a company that makes contractor construction planking. I explained to him what I do and where the tree was being harvested from and he said his father was a big FLW fan. I said that I would make a table for his father and his company if I could get the log. He agreed and we arranged a drop off. My partner at the time was Brandon Dobnick of Dobnick Timberworks and we had Wade Ellis of West Chicago to mill the tree into 2-1/2” thick live edge planks. These planks ranged in size from 4’ to 12’ long and 16”- 30+” wide.

After the milling and drying process was completed I was able to make the tables for the contractor, a table that took 1st place at the Sandwich County Fair, and several other tables and projects. I have the rest of the planks air drying in storage.

In 2018 I was contacted by the tree removal company and told that the next tree over from the initial tree at the FLW Home had also contracted Dutch Elm disease and would be removed. Would I be interested in it as well? Needless to say, I said yes and had those logs delivered. After sawing they will begin the air-drying process.

As an architecture teacher and a fan of FLW myself I thought others may be interested in furniture made from these historic trees. I just completed a kitchen remodel for a client friend and fellow FLW fan who had me make a live edge wine bar top and serving board for his new kitchen.

I was able to go into the FLW archives and find a picture from 1975 of the Home and Studio with the tree out front. I was unable to find any earlier pictures, but by counting the rings I figured the tree to be about 70-80 years old, so it was probably planted in the 1940s.  FLW left the home around 1909 and died in 1959 and so probably had no history with the tree. The Wright family sold the home in 1925.

I documented the removal, milling, and product construction of these items so future clients will have record of their history. I call my furniture made from specific client’s trees Heritage Furniture made from Legacy Logs and this project certainly fits that criteria. I hope this furniture with keep this valuable resource enjoyable for future generations.

Contact Skorup at sawinc.skorup@gmail.com.

Read related article about Skorup: Making the Transition from Teaching to Running an Urban Wood Business