WRIGHT AROUND THE CORNER
The Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park, St. Louis, Missouri
It is too easy to look past the gems of your own neighborhood as the world beyond seems more exotic. Somehow I’ve lived in St. Louis for more than 25 years, but only recently sought out our Frank Lloyd Wright house in Kirkwood, a suburb not far from my house. People travel the world to see FLW sites and here is one in my area.
The house, now a museum that is part of St. Louis County Parks system, is perfectly restored to its original glory. The 1,900 square foot house was built for Russell and Ruth Kraus in the 1950s. Russell was a freelance commercial artist and designer. His talent and vision, plus Frank Lloyd Wright’s design, created a useful, efficient and beautiful home. The Krauses lived in the house until 1992 and it is one of only five FLW designs in Missouri.
We scheduled our guided tour (once Covid’s complete shutdowns allowed) and ended up with a private showing by Kathryn Feldt, the museum’s director—an amazing experience for the two of us and a bargain at only $40. Kathryn told us all about the design, construction and restoration of the property and knew the answers to all of our questions.
The Kraus’ requested a design from FLW which ended up taking five years to complete. The wait was worth it, however, as Russell Kraus’ art was integrated into the design. Russell’s stained glass art screens in the living room mirror the geometric angles throughout the house and landscaping. When we visited, the afternoon sun added gorgeous, colorful lighting the open living room.
The Kraus house is on more than 10 acres and looks like it was built into the land and had always been there. The outdoor terrace is surrounded by trees and its geometric angles are built into the slope of the ground. The way the house is designed, incorporating the landscape, makes the entire footprint feel bigger.
Russell’s art studio is bathed in light and has a cozy fireplace. It is easy to see how an artist could be inspired in this studio with nature surrounding his view and a skylight providing natural light.
Usonian homes, as they are called, are based on geometric shapes and design. Once you’ve seen one, you know that look. When I was five, my parents rented a Usonian house in Rolla, MO designed by one of FLW’s students. All I remember from the year we lived there is that it was a “weird” house and nothing like any of my friends split-level look-alike subdivision houses, perhaps it inspired my lifetime admiration of great architecture? As we toured the Ebsworth Park house and viewed the built-in sofa, I remembered my childhood’s sunken living room with raw concrete details (sharp edges) and the exact same upholstery I was seeing at the Kraus House (yes, that's me circa 1972 in the middle shot—see that built in sofa!).
All of the furniture mimics the geometric shapes throughout the house, which was amusing to me to see a hexagon-shaped and a parallelogram-shaped bed (guessing 1-800 Mattress does not carry those shapes). The kitchen is small, utilitarian and very 1950s, and so is the bathroom. Overall, the house feels cozy, warm and inexorably linked to its original owners. I loved this tour and it is inspiring me to see more FLW locations on future trips.
There is a cute little gift shop in the garage/storage area of the house with FLW books, stationery, jewelry and gift items. A very special thank you to Kathryn Feldt for the in-depth tour and permission to take photos for this post.
National Register of Historic Places
120 North Ballas Road, Kirkwood / St. Louis, MO, 314.822.8359