Norris deviated in some ways from the joinery methods of his 1930s predecessors. Instead of nailing the cabinet carcasses to the face frames, he used modern biscuit joinery to avoid color variations between the cypress (which darkens over time) and the putty-filled nail holes.
Another difference appears on the only curved part of the face frame, a short piece that forms a rounded corner of the counter. The original face-frame curve was made by sawing and shaping a straight piece of lumber. To avoid showing end grain, Norris replaced the original with a piece of bent cypress created via a homemade wood-bending apparatus. His steam chamber was a 4′ length of plumbing pipe with removable end caps and two holes drilled in the side: a steam inlet and a pressure-relief outlet. Steam generated by a teakettle was ducted to the hole in the plumbing pipe by a length of rubber hose. After the wood was made flexible by steaming for a couple of hours, Norris clamped it to the original piece to duplicate the curve’s radius.
To match the new cypress pieces to reused originals, Norris applied colored shellac. He then gave all visible surfaces two coats of polyurethane varnish, a finish Frank Lloyd Wright might have specified if it had existed in 1934. The result is remarkable consistency. A slight darkening around tiny dings and dents is the only thing that distinguishes the 1934 wood from the new pieces.
Cabinet pulls were re-created using a lost wax process.
Though many of the original slim, faceted, Art Deco drawer pulls and cabinet handles survived, most were bent and scratched. When Steve was unable to find off-the-shelf replacements, he turned to Gail Grabow, a Minneapolis jewelry artist. Grabow used the lost wax process to make about 50 handles for cabinets throughout the house. She began by forming silicone rubber molds around several original handles. Then she sliced the molds in half, removed the handles, and glued the halves back together. Next, using a wax injection machine, she filled the molds with liquid wax.
After the wax had solidified, Grabow removed the molds and carefully enlarged the wax replicas in all dimensions. This was necessary, she says, because “there’s about 1 to 3 percent shrinkage in the wax and another 5 to 7 percent shrinkage in the metal. If I didn’t do this, the finished handles wouldn’t fit the cabinet screw holds.” She sent the enlarged wax replicas to a foundry, where they were sprayed with liquid ceramic material to make molds that would stand up to molten metal. Once the ceramic had hardened, the wax was heated and drained out, and molten silicon bronze was poured into the molds. After cooling, the new handles were finished and chrome plated.
New deep red “battleship linoleum,” which had been used on the original countertops and floors, proved to be one of the hardest-to-find materials. The linoleum’s dried-out, cracked remains were found attached to hunks of the countertop in the garage. “Battleship” is a trade designation for thick, heavy-duty linoleum; it is still made in the original color—but only in Germany. After many persistent phone calls, Norris found two rolls of the precious material in a linoleum warehouse in the U.S. Before installing the linoleum on the floor, workers resurfaced the original subfloor by pouring a thin layer of self-leveling concrete.
The finished countertop’s coved back seamlessly curves up the wall and jogs around a built-in telephone nook.
To duplicate the original look of the back of the counter, where the linoleum curves up seamlessly and becomes the backsplash, the installation team first nailed a piece of coved wood into the corner to use as a form. They cut heavy paper templates exactly 2″ shorter all around than the finished dimension of the linoleum, a tactic that avoided inaccuracies introduced by the paper curling against the walls. When the team cut the linoleum to size, they added those 2″ back.
The most sensational elements in the kitchen are the gleaming porcelain refrigerator and stove, which Steve located with help from The Old Appliance Club. They closely match the originals, shown in photos of the house published in a 1938 issue of Architectural Forum. When Steve found the vintage G.E. refrigerator (called a “Monitor Top” because of its top-mounted compressor) and Hotpoint “Automatic” range, they were in excellent condition and working perfectly. The appliances are the icing on the cake in a kitchen that’s a window on real life as lived in the 1930s, as envisioned by an architectural genius.
Frank Lloyd Wright Reading Recommendations
As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases made through affiliate links. by Margo Stipe (Rizzoli 2014) Intimate immersion inside the Prairie houses, Fallingwater, Hollyhock House & more. FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT: THE ROOMS Interiors and Decorative Arts
by Alan Weintraub (Rizzoli 2006) Interiors and details of over 70 extant buildings of the Prairie School years. How Wright broke from Beaux Arts symmetry to create “a tartan plaid of main spaces and secondary spaces, of public rooms and circulation spaces”—with brilliant results. FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT PRAIRIE HOUSES
by H. Allen Brooks (Norton 2006) From its beginning to its end, Prairie School beyond Wright. Discusses the architects’ various contributions. THE PRAIRIE SCHOOL: Frank Lloyd Wright and his Midwest Contemporaries
by Patrick F. Cannon (Pomegranate 2006) Houses 1887–1913; this book is the pilgrimage documenting 27 Wright houses in Oak Park and River Forest. Photos include interiors. HOMETOWN ARCHITECT: The Complete Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park and River Forest, Illinois
by Alan Weintraub (Rizzoli 2005) From the 1908 Prairie School Robie house in Chicago through his textile-block houses in Los Angeles, and on to Fallingwater and Taliesin West, here are FLW’s residential commissions all in one FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT: THE HOUSES huge volume.
by Thomas A. Heinz (Gramercy Books 2002) Shown are 1,000 interiors, including houses and public and corporate buildings, from throughout Wright’s career. Horizontal lines, natural elements, concrete, and brilliant use of three dimensions. FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT’S INTERIORS
by Carla Lind (Pomegranate 1995) Innovative design for windows, skylights, and decoration.x FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT’S GLASS DESIGNS