Frank Lloyd Wright’s Laurent House opens June 6

The Laurent House at dusk. (Photo by Nels Akerlund)
The Laurent House at dusk. (Photo by Nels Akerlund)

Staff Report

The newest Frank Lloyd Wright museum, The Kenneth & Phyllis Laurent House, will open to the public Friday, June 6, in Rockford. A series of events beginning Wednesday, June 4, will celebrate the opening. The opening coincides with what would have been Wright’s 147th birthday June 8.

The home, considered by Wright as one of the 35 best works of his career, is the only building ever designed by the famed architect for a person with a disability.

Kenneth Laurent was a disabled, wheel-chair-bound World War II veteran who, at the prompting of his wife, contacted Wright, asking him to design a home to meet his unique needs. Wright responded, “Dear Laurent: We are interested but don’t guarantee costs. Who knows what they are today?”

The Laurents commissioned the home in 1948 and lived there from 1952 until early 2012, when the home and all of its original Frank Lloyd Wright-designed furniture was acquired by the Laurent House Foundation and added to the National Register of Historic Places.

This single-story Usonian home is both functional and beautiful, meeting the needs of its owner decades ahead of Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements. The home features a solar hemicycle footprint, patio, fishpond, carport and outdoor connectivity to the natural landscape. The modest home is built of Chicago Common Brick and Red Tidewater Cypress. Much of the labor and materials used to build the home were sourced locally in Rockford.

Grand opening events include the following:

• “10 Chairs: A Dinner at the Wright Table” — Wednesday, June 4. Private event, limited to 10 guests, on a first-come, first-served reservation basis.

• “Launching Laurent: a celebration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Laurent House” — Thursday, June 5. Limited to 160 guests; open to the public.

• Grand Opening Ribbon Cutting — Friday, June 6. By invitation only.

• Public tours — Saturday and Sunday, June 7-8. Open to the public.

Following the opening weekend, the home will be open for tours on the first and last weekend of each month, and by appointment for group tours.

Community rallied to save Laurent House

In 2011, faced with few options and no buyer in sight, the Laurents — by this time in their 90s — made a difficult decision to place the house and its furnishings up for auction. Motivated by the possibility of losing a civic treasure, the Rockford community rallied behind the cause. In one month’s time, $1 million was secured from public and private sources to ensure the home could remain a local treasure, open for the public to enjoy and benefit from. Key in saving the house was a commitment by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) to provide $500,000 in match funding.

The Laurent House Foundation succeeded in acquiring the home and its contents at auction Dec. 15, 2011. Since that time, the foundation has worked to prepare the home to open as a museum. Included in this effort were extensive restoration projects, including a complete replacement of the roof structure.

Restoration was completed under the direction of John Eifler of Eifler & Associates Architects.

A significant work of art

The building is unique in that it has been continually occupied by the original owners, and contains not only furnishings designed by the architect, but many personal items of the owners. In other words, it is a complete work of art,” said restoration architect John Eifler of Eifler & Associates Architects.

Jerry Heinzeroth, president of the Laurent House Foundation, said: “Spending time with Ken and Phyllis for the last eight years of their lives was a distinct privilege. Listening to their stories of a life lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed personal residence, and their dream for its future, was inspirational. I know they would be overjoyed to see their dream realized and another significant Frank Lloyd Wright home preserved for future generations.”

The Laurent House Foundation owns the Kenneth & Phyllis Laurent Home and operates it as a museum.

The foundation was organized to acquire, maintain and preserve this historically significant Frank Lloyd Wright home, its original furnishings and documents. The foundation will serve to inform the public about the educational, historic and architectural relevance of the only handicapped accessible home designed by America’s greatest architect.

From the June 4-10, 2014, issue

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