In spring 2019, the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust concluded the final phase of a comprehensive restoration of the Frederick C. Robie House at a total cost of $11 million. A masterpiece of the Prairie style and a precursor of modernism in architecture, now restored to its 1910 vision, the Robie House was designated by the American Institute of Architects as one of the 10 most significant structures of the twentieth century. With its bold horizontal lines, daring cantilevers, stretches of leaded glass windows and open floor plan, the Robie House inspired an architectural revolution.
The restoration of the house interiors is a significant transformation of the entry ground floor and spectacular main floor. This phase of work includes the main entry hall and stairway, billiard room and children’s playroom on the ground floor; and the living room, dining room and guest bedroom on the main floor.
The exacting interior restoration reflects Wright’s original vision in coloration, wall textures, lighting, leaded-glass windows and doors, millwork and cabinetry. Original plaster was kept intact wherever possible. In certain areas, a textured lime-putty plaster technique was applied to the walls, replicating the original process. The salmon, pale yellow and ochre palette of coloration has been applied in several layers of semi-transparent paint recreating Wright’s unique autumnal palette. A magnesite floor throughout the ground level reproduces the original material, and a recreated leaded-glass front entry door to the house has been installed. The original door was destroyed in a student demonstration of the 1960s.
The original inglenook surrounding the living room fireplace has been reconstructed along with cabinetry in the dining room and children’s playroom. Wall-mounted brass light scones, suspended glass globe lights, and semi-concealed lay lights in the ceiling combine original and recreated light fixtures resulting in a luminous mix of incandescent and natural light. Several items of original furniture, including the dining table and chairs, return to Robie House on loan from the Smart Museum of Art.
With support from the Getty Foundation through its Keeping It Modern initiative, the Trust is completing a Conservation Management Plan for the Robie House. This comprehensive document will include policies that will guide preservation work for many decades to come.
Lead preservation architect for the Robie House restoration was Gunny Harboe of Harboe Architects, and Bulley & Andrews was the general contractor. Harboe Architects also led the preservation of The Rookery, Unity Temple and Bach House.
Major funders of the restoration include: Alphawood Foundation Chicago, Pritzker Foundation, Hickory Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Meijer Foundation, Tawani Foundation, John and Jeanne Rowe, Friends of Heritage Preservation, Richard and Mary L. Gray, and Viñoly Family Foundation.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust is preservation steward and sole operator of the Robie House, located at 5757 South Woodlawn Ave in Chicago (Hyde Park), Il. The University of Chicago is owner of the property. The building remained open to the public during most of the restoration work, welcoming national and international audiences.