A few weeks ago, while Trump was allowing the G20 to become the G19 with the US no longer playing a lead role in the world (now it looks like Russia, China, and Angela Merkel will dominate global policy and trade), we escaped to the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and to see the two Frank Lloyd Wright houses near the resort – Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater.
The Nemacolin resort sits atop a hill and spans many acres with three separate hotels – the Chateau which is the main hotel where Lautrec, the Forbes Five-Star, AAA Five-Diamond restaurant is housed; the Lodge which is adjoining the Chateau; and Falling Rock which is the most upscale of the three hotels (private butlers are included). Many of the rooms have been remodeled in the last few years and are spacious and well appointed with large bathrooms. The resort also has every extracurricular activity that one can imagine in or near the property – two golf courses, spa, horseback riding, a casino, a small zoo, tennis, pools, shooting, zip lining to name some.
To us, though, it was the perfect base to see the two houses of Wright’s. Saturday morning we went to Kentuck Knob, one of the last houses he ever designed when he was 88. (He died a few months before his 92nd birthday in 1959.) It was built for a Pennsylvania family who lived in it full time. It was fascinating and Wright’s touches were amazingly thorough including using cut out wood trim with indoor glass windows where the glass could be opened so the breezes flow through the house as natural air conditioning. Sunlight and indirect lighting are used rather than overhead fixtures in order to have the property blend with nature. It is a Usonian house although it is much larger than the typical Usonian home which was designed to be an affordable option for the middle class after the Great Depression. Kentuck Knob is hexagonal in shape with almost all of its walls, built in fixtures and furniture either in triangular or hexagonal shape.
From their website:
“Kentuck Knob’s construction materials of native sandstone and tidewater red cypress blend naturally with the surroundings. The fully functional kitchen is the architectural core of the home. Its walls of stone not only anchor the two wings of the house but they also rise to penetrate the horizontal line of the copper roof. An open floor plan, cantilevered overhangs, and great expanses of glass effortlessly integrate the inside with the outside. Stretching to the east, just beyond the back terrace, is a breathtaking panorama of the Youghiogheny River Gorge and the beautiful Laurel Highlands mountains that surround it.”
The surrounding woods are seemingly endless and the sculptures that were collected by its owners create a beautiful walk through the woods after walking out to a plateau with a view of the whole valley below. My favorite is the sculpture of a German Shepherd which was commissioned when the current owners, the Palumbos, commissioned the statue after their beloved dog, Jute, died.
Saturday night we dined at Lautrec. What a great experience. The choices were either a 7 or 14 course tasting or a four course Prix Fixe meal. We selected the later so that we could taste more dishes. Every one was fantastic although the ribeye steak variation was truly an amazing variation of the big slab of meat that one usually imagines as a rib eye. The pasta – both the black truffle and the sweet corn – were excellent. By the time desert arrived, we were stuffed but managed to force our way through a fantastic version of a s’more and a lime and kiwi fruit mousse. We did have to take the candy from the candy cart as a “to go” however.
The next day was the 20 minute drive to Fallingwater which is one of Wright’s greatest works according to many. His career had been considered over until at age 70, he designed this home. Truly built out of the hill and blended over and around a waterfall and the forest. It is difficult to describe and pictures only tell half of the story. It was a “getaway” home for a wealthy Pittsburgh family that is cantilevered over the water.
From the website:
“Fallingwater is a house built between 1936 and 1939 over a waterfall in southwest Pennsylvania. Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most famous architect, designed the house for his clients, the Kaufmann family. It instantly became famous, and today it is a National Historic Landmark.
It’s a house that doesn’t even appear to stand on solid ground, but instead stretches out over a 30’ waterfall. It captured everyone’s imagination when it was on the cover of Time magazine in 1938.”
It is worth a trip to experience the homes. Although I certainly can appreciate both house’s beauty and the art of the architecture, they would be hard to live in. All the floors are stone which kills one’s shins, and the furniture and even the toilets are so low to the ground, it would be hard for anyone over 4 feet tall and over 45 years of age to get up once seated.
It was wonderful to get away from DC and politics for the weekend and Nemacolin as well as the Wright houses are definitely worth planning an excursion to this area of Pennsylvania. The drive is approximately three and a half hours from DC on major highways most of the way or four-plus hours using the back country roads to admire the scenery.