For many decades designers have been looking to Frank Lloyd Wright for design inspiration. The principles underlying his approach to design can be applied to anything that calls for fine aesthetic quality. If you have an outdoor area that you would like to make more comfortable and attractive, the approach taken and structures created by Wright might be worth investigating. The Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois, Fallingwater in Bear Run, Pennsylvania, and his many other architectural works scattered across the United States still inspire, with principles that scaffold these artifices are definitely worth importing to a project, whether you are creating a humble garden spot, a poolside lounging area or an extensive outdoor “living room.” Anyone can benefit from emulating the emphasis on “quality of place” found in the works of Wright.
If you’ve been to a garden party or backyard barbeque and felt unsettled or uncomfortable despite great folks and wonderful fare, the reason may have been a lack of certain design principles. These are elements only obvious when they are lacking: It is much more likely that we notice disorder than order, that we pay attention to what is out of place or jarring than to the regular, reliable consistency of a display or space.
Frank Lloyd Wright is known for “organic” architectural design: This was new with the architect and features a pronounced organic relationship between a building site/exterior space and the edifice it surrounds. Materials (stone, metal, wood, concrete, cinder block) applied to the exterior of a Wright home and in the landscaping were deliberately connected though use of similar materials and forms. Throughout the home, down to the finest details – furniture, lighting fixtures, carpet patterns, fabrics, etc. – organic forms, textures and tones were repeated. What Wright did with his approach to repeating forms and connecting interior and exterior spaces with his organic architecture, many have done, though in various ways.
From ancient times (witness the Parthenon and cave drawings) humans have embraced the soothing, reassuring effect of pattern and repetition, and anyone can implement this approach when designing an outdoor area. You don’t need to be a world-famous architect or even a professional interior designer.
It begins with taking notice of what organic elements are natural to your area. Is it a wooded, desert or mountainous area? Does the patio or garden abut a brick home or a log cabin? What predominant shapes and lines meet the eye from the vantage point of the outdoor area in question? You can repeat and mimic line, color, texture and more.
Line: Is there a handsome fence or gate with a dominant arching or multi-linear pattern? Is this a hilly or mountainous area with peaks or curves in view? Remember that horizontal lines are the most soothing, while vertical and diagonal lines create tension or excitement. You can reference your observations about line when you select lounge chair cushions, patio furniture, a patio umbrella style, planters, and brick or tile work.
Color: This element extends to tone and is often the most noticed, so it makes sense to keep a tight palette. Frank Lloyd Wright’s early Prairie homes were built of stucco and brick, so the colors chosen for interior applications were typically warm, autumn shades of green, red, yellow and brown. Limiting the number of colors and repeating their use throughout a structure brings unity and harmony. This approach is ideal for an outdoor living area where relaxation is the goal. Consider the tones that work with the natural surroundings and the home itself and choose just a few to repeat in all decorative elements.
Texture: Innovation with texture is a signature Wright technique. For example, Wright’s Ennis-Brown house located in California was built with textured blocks made of concrete to mimic pre-Columbian architecture. Wright experimented extensively with textured concrete blocks and other means of evoking architecture found in other parts of the world. You may do the same as you design your exterior living space. Consider texture as a design element in horizontal and vertical surfaces, sun-resistant fabrics, lighting, tile work and more. Limit the kinds of texture you use and repeat textural elements to elicit a rich, inspiring place to lounge and gather.
Browse images of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes and other architectural masterpieces to find more inspiration, or check out one of the many books written about Wright from your local library. To get started incorporating your ideas, take a seat outdoors where you will be creating a new, comfortable patio or other space and sketch out ideas, listing possibilities for repeating organic lines, colors and textures.
Finally, you can take note that Frank Lloyd Wright studied basic elements of design and was intimate with those basic principles that have informed great architecture for centuries. Then he set off on his own, pioneering a new frontier in home and building design. You too are limited only by your imagination, so have fun, experiment and watch what happens!
Petra Travesen began learning about design as a wayward art student decades ago. Years of decorating – everything from purchasing new decorative throw pillows that did wonders for an old livingroom set to redoing entire kitchens – has taught her a thing or two about what to do and what not to do (Scarlet paint for the laundry room? Maybe not.) These days, Petra is busy enjoying a little more down time writing and reading about all things design/architecture. Last month she found some fabulous custom made cushions for a new chaise lounge, beautiful earthy tones that complement her “wunder-garden” and couldn’t be more pleased.