Interior Colors: Frank Lloyd Wright
and George Mann Niedecken
Before Frank Lloyd Wright boarded a ship bound for Europe in autumn 1909, he insured that Robie House would be completed to his standards. He contracted with architect Herman von Holst and interior architect George Mann Niedecken to manage the project. Trained in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Europe, Niedecken was exposed to a variety of teachers and artistic influences; however, the philosophy that Wright and Niedecken shared of creating a home as one unified composition from exterior to interior allowed the merging of their artistic skills to create the integrated interior spaces of Robie House.
Subtle pinks, warm yellows, and earth tones found in small sections of colored glass inform the color scheme within the living and dining rooms. These hues, combined with larger panes of clear glass, are joined together by metal tracks of copper-plated zinc to create abstract delineations in the art glass windows and doors, resulting in a crescendo of pattern and muted color. Presumably inspired by Wright’s glimmering walls of art glass windows, Niedecken identified a range of hues from yellow to red ochre for the interior paint colors. He supervised an artistic treatment of paint applied to the textured-plaster walls and ceilings to create a variety of tone and rich mottled effect.
The Robie House commission was not the first time that Wright and Niedecken had worked together. As early as 1904, Wright occasionally contracted with Niedecken for assistance in completing some of the larger Prairie style commissions. At the Dana House (Springfield, Illinois) Niedecken’s elaborate mural of sumac and native plants in the dining room acts as a foil to Wright’s more abstract interpretation of the sumac plant seen in the art glass windows. The mural rests well above the dining room table and just below the soaring barrel vaulted ceiling, evoking the colors of the prairie, and visually softening the impact of the resounding height of the room. Niedecken’s mural for the Coonley House (Riverside, Illinois), depicting fern fronds and birch trees in simplified surroundings, and painted on the living room wall, suggests the natural setting of the home. Both hand-crafted mural treatments are an integral aspect of the comprehensive design.
The artistic treatment of the Robie House interior did not call for murals. There was an understanding between Wright and Niedecken that the decorative scheme was to be developed through the use of furnishings, art glass, rugs, and painted plaster. Each of these components is drawn into a singular harmony with ornamentation being executed through the use of a complex color palette, and a modernistic thrust toward reducing superfluous decoration, while emphasizing the integrity of materials.Click images below to view at full size.