Harmony in the home Furniture, textiles and other designs of Frank Lloyd Wright on display at PMA


“A building is not just a place to be, it is a way to be.”

So said Frank Lloyd Wright, one of America’s most outstanding architects who, in fact, changed the way we use space.

Over the course of his 70-year career, Wright developed a unique sense of harmony between architecture and interior design – and created it in a way to fit the needs of a modern, American lifestyle.

“Frank Lloyd Wright And the House Beautiful,” an exhibit featuring more than 100 original objects, including furniture, metalwork, textiles, drawings and accessories, went up at the Portland Museum of Art in late June and comes down Oct. 8.

The phrase “House Beautiful” was used in the early 20th century “in reference to a principle in architectural and social reform where the quality of life could be improved by restyling the design of the material environment – from terraces to tablespoons,” according to the PMA.

Wright’s concept of “House Beautiful” meant a home in which a sense of harmony reigned. To achieve this, he designed furnishings to harmonize with his buildings – buildings he designed to blend in with nature.

He believed less could mean more, and functionality without frills was his goal not only in architecture, furniture, metalwork and lamps but also in textiles.

Wright believed that family life could be improved if people lived in tasteful, well-designed houses.

The problem with this magnificent exhibit is that Wright’s furniture pieces were designed to fit into the architecture he also designed. Thus, they look better in photographs taken in their original space than in museum galleries.

Although PMA’s galleries have been specially prepared – with the use of soft green and earth colors to help create a sense of harmony with nature – the furniture does not look as beautiful taken out of its original environment.

Wright’s great gift was to unite beauty with functionality in his designs.

A perfect example is a teakwood lamp titled “Taliesin III,” which has a series of geometric levels in a repetitive pattern more than 5 feet high. It is such an exquisite lamp that it could be called free-standing sculpture, yet it is functional and provides light.

A beautiful blue chair titled “Armchair, Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona,” created in 1946, is still fresh today and looks like a winged spaceship.

Wright’s textile designs are timeless achievements in creativity. The “Taliesin Line” collection of textiles and wallpapers designed by Wright in 1954 are still exciting today. His designs for stained-glass windows and lamps are also impressive.

The site for Wright’s home in Wisconsin, a gift from his mother, was called “Taliesin.” Another site for a home located in Arizona at a later time was called “Taliesin West.” Taliesin is the name of a Welch poet. Wright family descendants originally came from Wales.

“Taliesin West,” created in 1937, became a training center for architects who agreed with Wright’s philosophy.

Wright died in 1959, but his work lives on in the architecture and furnishings he designed.

The PMA is at Seven Congress Square in downtown Portland.

Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays Memorial Day through Columbus Day. Admission: $10 for adults, $8 seniors and students with I.D., $4 for youth ages 6-17. Children under 6 admitted free. The museum is open free from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday.

Pat Davidson Reef has a master’s degree in education and has taught art history at Catherine McAuley High School in Portland. She has written two children’s books, “Dahlov Ipcar, Artist,” and “Bernard Langlais, Sculptor.” She teaches children’s literature for teacher recertification for the American Institute for Creative Education.