Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Opens Newly-Restored Second Floor on Extended Public Tours
Darwin D. Martin House | Apr 27, 2018
The second floor of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House in Buffalo, NY, is now open to the public after being temporarily off-limits during its restoration, which started in June 2017.
Visitors can experience highlights of the upstairs spaces on Martin House Plus (two-hour) tours and on certain specialty tours, such as All Wright All Day.
Completing the second floor marks the last phase of interior restoration on the main Darwin D. Martin House. The second floor includes the Martin family’s bedrooms, a guest suite of rooms, servants’ quarters and a sewing room. Two-hour tour visitors will see the highly designed master bedroom suite and glimpses into the children’s bedrooms. There are also striking examples of Wright-designed built-in furniture and unique variations of the Martin House signature “Tree of Life” art glass pattern.
It is with the talents of dedicated artisans and builders that the Martin House returns to its original integrity. Hulley Woodworking of Kenmore, NY, is the firm responsible for restoring the interior woodwork details of Martin House. Their team of craftsmen have exhibited expertise in the selection, joinery, and finishing of rift and quarter-sawn oak across multiple intricate profiles and trim throughout the building. Originally a crafted using 19th century technique, this element of the restoration is an instrumental component to the overall interpretation of Wright’s designs in woodwork. John Hulley reflects on his role in the restoration, “It has been an honor and a privilege to have been selected to work on this project. I am especially proud of my team of craftsmen, all of whom honed their skills here in Buffalo. The cabinetmakers and carpenters who built this house would certainly approve of the workmanship of these modern day artisans, who spent thousands of hours carefully and meticulously restoring their work.”
On May 22, two primary woodworkers, Stephen Oubre and Rolf Hoeg, will receive the 2018 Preservation Craft award from Preservation Buffalo Niagara for their excellence in rebuilding the Martin House interior cabinetry and built-in furnishings. When reflecting on a decade of involvement in this project, from restoring the original dining room sideboard to making a 1905 icebox from present day materials, one word comes to Oubre’s mind: gratitude. “Every skilled worker should be grateful that they have found their work and that there are patrons out there willing to pay them to do what they love to do. [Executive Director,] Mary Roberts and the Restoration Corporation have trusted me to rebuild something they hold very dear. I am grateful to Matt Meier, Jamie Robideau, and the late Ted Lownie of HHL Architects for their generous support and guidance when I needed it and for affording me a bit of maker’s license when I didn’t.” Hoeg reflects on the opportunity to practice his technical and artistic skills: “There were times I felt like an old shipwright methodically repairing and refitting a vessel for another 100 year voyage. Other times a portrait artist, rendering the visions of architects and owners both present and past. All the while maintaining healthy doses of awe, inquiry, and gratitude as I am allowed to pursue my craft.”
Beautiful, glowing wall finishes complement the wood trim and built-in furniture. Jo Hormuth, a multi-disciplinary independent artist and instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, leads the restoration process for the plaster finishes and gilded brickwork throughout the house. Her approach requires a balance of art and science. Microscopic examinations of paint samples and basic glaze recipes from Wright’s correspondence with Darwin Martin allow Hormuth to execute her work using period materials and techniques. “The treatment of walls and ceilings is of paramount importance in Frank Lloyd Wright restorations. Those surfaces are the most prominent feature in terms of square footage and do much to shape the overall mood of his interiors,” says Hormuth. “Here, the incorporation of metallic powders into wax glazes adds brilliance and luminosity, subtly reflecting sunlight and firelight, contributing to – along with the woodwork, mosaic fireplace, leaded-glass windows, and other elements – a stunning and unified interior.”
Beyond the completion of the second floor, recent restoration efforts include replicating the four-sided wisteria mosaic fireplace; recreating the two signature Jewett iceboxes in the Martin’s kitchen; installing eight original art glass windows, and unveiling a completely restored Barton House, set to re-open in June 2018.
The Martin House embodies the spirit of Wright’s organic architecture. It is always changing and evolving. The next phase of restoration is one of true organic growth – the historic Wright-designed landscape, scheduled to break ground this spring.
To experience the Martin House second floor, two-hour tours run every day in April and May at 10am or 2pm, except for Tuesdays when the site is closed. The site is open seven days per week June through August with two-hour tours open to the public at 10am, 12pm, and 2pm. For a complete schedule of tour and event offerings, visit martinhouse.org.