Edit Module
Edit Module
Edit Module
Edit Module

Remembering the Farnsworth House Feud

Life was not always sunshine and I-beams at the iconic Mies van der Rohe building in Plano. A new book spills all.

Farnsworth in front of the house, midbuild   Photo: Courtesy David W. Dunlap / Random House

1 Edith Farnsworth was a jill-of-all-trades. The well-to-do kidney specialist was also a conservatory-trained violinist, a published poet, and a translator of Italian verse, writes Alex Beam in Broken Glass. She met Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at a dinner party in 1945, and the world-famous architect began designing her retreat in Plano soon after.

2 Their early relationship was an intense, intellectual one, full of Fox River picnics and late nights at Mies’s office. It was probably more than business, Beam writes; Mies only technically had a wife back in Germany. But an affair is not technically documented, either.

3 The Farnsworth House became the world’s fanciest pet project. The doctor intended to spend $8,000 to $10,000. In the end, it cost around $74,000 (equal to about 10 times that today). Mies was a fussy perfectionist. Farnsworth reportedly told her nephew, “My house is a monument to Mies van der Rohe, and I’m paying for it.”

Farnsworth, Mies van der Rohe
Farnsworth (left) and Mies van der Rohe Photos: (Edith Farnsworth) Random House; (Mies van der Rohe) AP/Whitney Museum of American Art

4 As the bills piled up, their relationship soured. They sued each other in 1951, him seeking unpaid fees and her alleging he was a hack. Trial highlights: Mies stowing cigars in the bricks of the Kendall County Courthouse to smoke during breaks; Farnsworth playing dumb to the whole project, only to be outed by a photograph of her looking at the blueprints. Mies won, and the pair spent the rest of their lives hating each other. Ah, l’amour!

5 Maybe part of the reason Farnsworth got so cranky was the house is unlivable. In the summer, the glass box — essentially a greenhouse — suffered from insufficient ventilation, fully steamed-up windows, and a lack of air-conditioning. “You feel as though you are in a car in the rain with a windshield wiper that doesn’t work,” Farnsworth told Newsweek. Most problematic: flooding. Though the dwelling rests on five-foot stilts, in 1996 water rose to five feet inside, high enough to whisk a Warhol portrait of Liz Taylor off the wall and away downriver, never to be seen again.

Share

Edit Module

Advertisement

Edit Module
Submit your comment

Comments are moderated. We review them in an effort to remove foul language, commercial messages, abuse, and irrelevancies.

Edit Module