IA Visits Farnsworth House

By Maggie Schroeder | Designer

Inspiring the Inspiration Makers: Lured by warm sunshine and the natural light of longer days, as well as creative curiosity, many IA offices during the summer take the opportunity to explore a local venue for inspiration, comradery, and fun. This is the first in a series of posts that share some of those experiences.

IA Chicago team members at Farnsworth House.

Inspiration is powerful. When IA was invited on an excursion to the Farnsworth House, I couldn’t wait to get up-close and experience Mies van der Rohe’s masterwork. Admittedly, I didn’t know much of anything about the house other than that it was by Mies, located in Plano, Illinois, and at college I had been encouraged to go see it.

Approximately an hour and a half outside Chicago, the house was intended to be a weekend retreat for Dr. Edith Farnsworth. Edith and Mies apparently hit it off at a dinner party, and Dr. Farnsworth contracted the architect/general contractor to build her one-room, riverside country retreat. All did not end well though. Perfection comes at a price. The initial approved construction budget for the home was $58,400, but near the end the price escalated to $74,000. This did not sit well with Dr. Farnsworth and thus a very public quarrel resulted. Mies filed a lawsuit for nonpayment, and Dr. Farnsworth countersued for malpractice. In the end Mies won the suit, but his reputation was marred. The site was left unfinished as well as the interior. A former Mies employee, architect William Dunlap, completed the project.

The Farnsworth House, Plano, Illinois.

Today the house is owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Over time the house has suffered several floods and a few renovations. Both site and interiors have now been restored to Mies’ vision and are an embodiment of minimalism, with floor-to-ceiling glass throughout that allows one to experience the natural surroundings as if outdoors.

Arriving on site was a trip in itself. The group was about 50 people, a quarter of the group from IA and others from firms around the city. The expedition was sponsored by Corporate Concepts, Knoll, Knoll Textiles, and Knoll Studio. The day of the trip was the hottest day of the year with temperatures topping out at 100 degrees. Our bus had very little air conditioning, and the ride was tolerable but made fun by playing trivia and indulging in some adult refreshments.

On the way to Farnsworth House.

Arriving at the unassuming visitors’ center, our group was transported down to the house, some by golf cart and some by van. I was lucky enough to travel in the golf cart with our boisterous, lovely tour guide.

From the visitors’ center we traveled down a wooded path adjacent to the Fox River, over a bridge, and then to a clearing where you can view the house in its natural meadow surrounding. When I saw the house I started to get giddy. All our group had huge smiles and we couldn’t wait for the previous tour group, crowded around the house, to take the obligatory Instagram shot and clear out of the way.

Our guide talked about the travertine stone imported all the way from Italy and the wood paneling made of primavera—which explains why the cost skyrocketed, but for Mies only the best materials could be used. The house is the ultimate expression of minimalism. The alignments made me smile. The way everything was so well thought out—modern techniques from the 1950s used to achieve uninterrupted cantilevered corners—was a treat to experience. It was worth the less than comfortable bus ride and will be worth the trip to experience it again. I hope to go back in the fall and in the winter to experience the house in different seasons, creating opportunities to be inspired over and over again.

Farnsworth House in summer.

Maggie Schroeder


Maggie Schroeder is a designer in IA’s Chicago office. She holds a Bachelor of Interior Design from Harrington College of Design and has worked on projects for a wide range of clients, including McDonald’s Headquarters, Citibank, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and Amica Insurance, to name a few.

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