When you think of iconic homes, chances are, Fallingwater, located in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, makes the top of your list. But did you know that there’s another fascinating Frank Lloyd Wright house located just seven miles away? And despite the fact that it’s a private home, it’s also available for tours.
Kentuck Knob was designed by the world-renowned architect in 1953, and was one of the last homes that he completed…at the age of 86. Despite never having visited the site, he somehow managed to create a home that fits into the landscape as if it grew organically out of the mountains above Uniontown, Pennsylvania. A one-story Grand Usonian house, the design incorporates art, architecture and nature all under one roof.
When I visited, I was delighted to be greeted by the sight of more than 60,000 daffodils that are planted along the hillside on the way up to the home; an outdoor footpath takes visitors through a vast array of art, which includes works by Andy Goldsworthy, Sir Anthony Caro, Scott Burton, Harry Bertoia, George Rickey and others; there are even pieces of the Berlin Wall on display.
The house itself is a work of art, although unlike its more famous relative, it feels less like a museum and more like a comfortable home. This is probably because the original owners of the house, I.N. And Bernardine Hagan of Hagan’s Ice Cream fame, lived there for 30 years after its construction. In 1986, Englishman Lord Peter Palumbo bought the property, and decided to open it up for tours 10 years later, though he still lives on property down the road when he and his family visit America.
This is not to say that the home isn’t grand, however; in 1954, Frank Lloyd Wright was given a $60,000 budget to design the house; the total cost was $96,000 when all was said and done. In 1986, Lord Palumbo bought Kentuck Knob for $600,000—including its priceless view that overlooks the Youghiogheny River Gorge.
The materials pay homage to the natural world as well; all of the wood in the house is Tidewater Red Cypress from the Carolinas, and the walls are made of sandstone that was quarried on the property. The flagstone floors throughout the house are from Maryland. The roof is copper, though Frank Lloyd Wright originally wanted to use wooden shake shingles—he changed his mind for safety’s sake, as there was no fire department in the area at the time of the home’s construction.
The architect’s philosophy of "compression and release" is on display throughout the home, where low ceilinged rooms and narrow doors and hallways (the doorway to the bedroom is 19 inches wide!) open up into larger expanses that showcase the natural world through large windows. A stunning feature of the living room is the "invisible window" whose frames are set into the stone wall so to not to ruin the view. The flagstone porch features 24 hexagonal skylights that represent the 24 hours in a day, and also provide brilliant geometric splashes of natural light when the sun shines—another merging of nature, art and architecture. Passive solar heat from skylights warms the home in winter, in addition to 2,200 feet of cast iron pipes that provide radiant heat through the flooring.
Despite the fact that the living room is the most expansive of the rooms, I think that my favorite area was the small kitchen, which was nestled into the center of the house like a cubbyhole. It still houses a 1956 Westinghouse wall oven, original stainless steel counters and the original cooktop built by an engineer from Frigidaire; and the entire room is lit by one skylight in its 14.5-foot-high ceiling (which required the Hagan family to put lights under and over the cabinets after the fact).
Considered innovative in its day, Kentuck Knob is still a dramatically beautiful home that is well worth a visit in conjunction with Fallingwater or on its own. It is open March through November, with limited hours in December. Offerings include a regular house tour or an in-depth tour.
What’s the most interesting architectural marvel you’ve visited?
Keep up with the latest travel news, stories and updates and sign up for our newsletter today!