Megan Beidler has loved Frank Lloyd Wright’s work since her days studying architecture at SCI-Arc in Los Angeles. But even back then, she never dreamed she would actually own a home by the noted architect.
“After I applied and was accepted to the school, I had the opportunity to look at the notes from my admissions interview,” she says. “The interviewer said I’d listed Frank Lloyd Wright as one of my influences, and commented that I ‘might be a little naive about modern architecture.’ I thought: ‘Hey, just because he’s popular doesn’t mean I shouldn’t like him.’”
Years later, while planning a move to Chicago, she came face-to-face with a Frank Lloyd Wright home that would change her life. She was walking with her soon-to-be-husband (who is coincidently named Frank) in his hometown of Lake Forest, Illinois, when a home-for-sale sign caught her eye. She remembers: “I glimpsed the house through the trees and I said, ‘That looks like a Frank Lloyd Wright!’ My husband said, ‘I think I’d know if I grew up two blocks from a Wright house!’”
He didn’t know.
The Charles F. Glore residence was created by Wright in 1951, and it’s considered a fine example of his Usonian homes (modern residences Wright designed for the masses toward the end of his career). Although Chicago and its environs are Wright territory, this is the only home he designed in Lake Forest.
Glore, a banker and boating enthusiast, was reportedly enamored with brand names, and perhaps Wright’s fame led Glore to hire the well-known architect. “This house is definitely not the norm for Lake Forest, a place filled with traditional architecture,” says Beidler. “I’ve heard that, while it was being built, people in town made fun of it, and Glore became defensive and didn’t allow locals to visit after it was finished.”
However, the house-hunting couple did visit, even though they didn’t think they would actually buy it. “Our agent was really reluctant to show it to us, but she agreed if we would pretend to be real buyers, not just looky-loos,” says Megan. “I borrowed jewelry from my mother-in-law to seem legitimate.”
But what started as mere curiosity turned into serious interest when they got inside. “We put in an offer before we left for Los Angeles,” Megan says. “A week later, it was ours.”
It’s one thing to admire the work of a noted architect. It’s another to own a large home with historical significance, Wright’s signature Cherokee-red concrete floors, and mahogany siding inside and out.
“The home had been beautifully maintained and all of the updates were sensitive to his work,” says Megan. “But I was intimidated when we first moved in. I felt a bit trapped by the design, wanting to do exactly what he would have done.”
One of Beidler’s first moves was getting to know the home’s history. “The week after we closed, we got a call from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy,” she says. “They do many tours of Wright homes, and they had one scheduled here and they wanted to know if they could still come. The private homes I’d toured in architecture school were wonderful, and helped me understand them in a different way. We decided to treat the house as a piece of art, looking at it as something that should be shared with the public when possible. We’ve done several more tours with the Conservancy, and the organization has helped us learn a lot more about Wright and this house.”
Over the years, the home has been lightly touched. A deck was enclosed to make a dining room, some banks of single-pane windows had been replaced by double-glazing, and a garage had been added. “I love the way they designed the garage,” says Megan. “It is positioned so you can’t see if from the front, allowing you to view the house as it was built.”
After a few years, the family was willing to add their own modifications. “When we moved in, the mahogany paneling, the Chicago pink brick, and the red floor made it seem like the rooms were layers of red,” Megan says. “When the radiant heat had to be repaired, earlier residents cut into the concrete and then patched it—and that was very visible. At some point, they decided to just paint the whole thing Cherokee Red instead of trying to stain it, as it had been colored originally. We would walk barefoot over the floor and our soles would turn red.”
The architect knew Wright had used concrete in some projects, and decided to remove the red-painted floor and replace it with gray concrete, saving a chunk of the original flooring so scholars and Wright enthusiasts can view it. “I look at it this way: I live here, and he never did,” Megan says. “I like to think that if he were around today, he might see that some things don’t work long term.”
Megan says the home merits such thought and attention, as it has become a member of the family (which now includes the Beidlers’ three children). “It shapes the way we live,” she says. “The bedrooms are tiny, merely places you go to to sleep. They force us into the living room, which has double-height cathedral windows. We can look out of them and see nature, and it’s incredible. Last year, the kids watched a Great Horned owl raise her offspring. We have a front-row seat on the world around the house.”
Megan says that the careful siting of the windows is one of the things she appreciates most about the home. “So many of the rooms frame the views beautifully,” she says. “There’s an oak tree just out the living room window, and the angle of the room directly follows the largest limb.”
There’s also careful thought given to the placement of the built-in elements. “The bookcase is just the right height,” Megan says. “The beautiful staircase is wide and has low risers. People always freak out when they see it has no stair rail, but the proportions are such that it is easy to walk up and you don’t need to hold onto anything—it’s a very graceful element. It’s the little things like that that you really notice when you live in the house.”
The house was created at a time in Wright’s career when he was widely quoted as saying he couldn’t turn out designs fast enough to satisfy his many clients. Yet, the family knows that this project was no quick sketch. “He visited the site at least once, and corresponded with Glore about the details,” notes Megan, who has complete records for the project.
Despite the many attributes of the place, she describes the experience of living in the home as being in love 90 percent of the time. “Let’s just say that the first month we were here, the heating bill was $800. My husband handed it to me, and then handed me a sweater, saying ‘you are going to need one of these,’” Megan says. “The radiant heating system was shot long ago, and retrofitting is impossible. We ended up with a double heating system and 14 thermostats. When it gets really cold and we have a dinner party, we hand out lap blankets.”
She notes that the Wi-Fi doesn’t work upstairs, the triangular ceiling light fixtures emit little actual light, and that the kitchen has no view of the outdoors (“I don’t think either Glore or Wright was much of a cook,” Megan says).
The family also feels a responsibility to maintain, preserve, and (when appropriate) make the home available for viewing. When the previously mentioned tours happen, even the children are sometimes drafted to serve as docents.
For them, it’s a small price to pay. “When you are in the house, and you look in any direction, you see a beautiful view—either nature or an architectural feature,” says Megan. “It’s a treat to live here.”