Frank Lloyd Wright’s Chicago Architecture: Isidore Heller House, 1897
Isidore Heller House Frank Lloyd Wright Chicago, IL 1897
The Isidore Heller House is one of the highlights of Frank Lloyd Wright’s experimental and transitional period. This is one of the first houses that can be identified as having that Frank Lloyd Wright “look”. Two other houses by Wright went up in 1897 in the Chicago metropolitan area, the Rollin and George Furbeck Houses in Oak Park, but the Heller House is the most highly evolved, and perhaps the most highly evolved of Wright’s experimental and transitional period.
The attribute that points most to its modernity is not its detail, or windows, which are advanced for Wright, but rather the nature of its blocky massing. Here we begin to see Wright experimenting with the intersection of geometric planes. It’s bold, modern massing is at considerable odds with other houses of the era. The element in contention with Wright’s mature work is its verticality.
Most of the characteristics seen in Wright’s Prairie houses are visible in the Isadore Heller House, as well features that he would soon eliminate. Simply put, the Prairie houses are a refinement of the Isadore Heller House. The roofs of the Isadore Heller House are low hipped, nearly flat. The art glass windows are highly geometricized and intricate. Whereas Wright had been using art glass windows since the building of his own Oak Park Home in 1889, the Heller House is the first abandonment of simple side-by-side shapes, e.g. diamond panes. Most of Wright’s early projects did contain art glass windows, but their generic formation could be perceived as Medieval. Here, the designs within the windowpanes are interlaced with various shapes and colors.
The capitals of the columns on the front and side of the house are clearly Wrightian in design, though the ornament beneath the soffits, executed by Richard Bock, would be considered unnecessary in Wright’s mature work. The ornament, designed in plaster, has recently been replaced with identical replicas due to deterioration.
The interior of the house has wide open, flowing spaces, and retains the original color scheme. Wright is widely known for using earthy tones, though the walls of the Isidore Heller House are of coral and marigold tones. The current owners of the Isidore Heller House have lived there since the early 2000’s and have revealed that the original single family home has been turned into two units, with minimal interior alteration. The third floor, commonly used as a ballroom floor in many early Chicago mansions, is believed to have been used as a “gentleman’s room”, according to the owners. This would have been a place to play billiards, smoke cigars, and the like. Today, it is a separate apartment.