When Frank Lloyd Wright came to Buffalo in the early 1900s, he promised to build his friend – Larkin Soap Company executive Darwin Martin – a house that people would talk about for the next 100 years. Today, more than a century later, his word holds true. The complex is a worthy experience for any visitor at all times of the day. But it takes on new life at twilight.
Wright’s Martin House is widely considered one of his career masterpieces, and a landmark achievement in Buffalo’s architectural heritage. Its grandeur and Prairie-style period aesthetics are well documented. But it also features number of details which, even in-person, are difficult to internalize – including 8.5 miles of interior wood trim, an extravagant wisteria-themed fireplace mosaic featuring more than 30,000 tiles, and 394 windows (some of which containing more than 750 individual pieces of jewel-like iridescent glass).
Amazingly, Wright counters this grand decadence by turning a mansion into a welcoming home. Exterior tilework flows into the front entrance, blurring the lines between the outdoors and inside. Likewise, his variations on ceiling heights compel visitors to stand, pass through or sit down, respectively. Throughout the 90-minute tour, you learn that no detail is accidental.
Taking it on at Twilight
The twilight tour puts you into the shoes of a family returning home for the evening. It begins in the Gardener’s cottage: a “modest” structure – the smallest on the property – built of wood and stucco, yet still constructed with Wright’s attention to flow, function and detail that pervade throughout the complex. As the sun sets, visitors journey outside to walk the garden-manicured pathway, past the estate’s other buildings, and heading to the Martin House’s front entrance.
The home has a quiet energy at dusk. The soft glow of the interior lighting, coupled with the décor’s warm, autumnal color palette is enough to disarm any visitor. Each room features a balance of calm and luxury that reinforce Wright’s incessant attention to detail, and commitment to making the house welcoming at every corner. Through the efforts of the Martin House Restoration Corporation, the home is also increasingly restored to the exact condition when it was originally completed. You can picture yourself as a family member or honored guest – relaxing by a roaring fire in the living room’s crescent-shaped fireplace, or taking in the sounds of a custom oak Steinway piano on your way to the parlor or outdoor terrace.
Connected to the home, a grand pergola walkway is ornamented by a series of wooden beam archways leading to the cathedral-style greenhouse – which, naturally, wouldn’t be complete with a replica statue of Nike of Samothrace. In the evening, the soothing calm of running water, greenery and outdoor glow turn the room into a truly authentic sanctuary oasis.
A twilight tour is an enchanting experience for architectural lovers, or those who want to take a piece of Buffalo history, at a time of day where it takes on new life. It was enough for this writer and his wife to consider a drink at the nearby neighborhood Parkside Meadow, where we could discuss the next time we could come back.
Photos courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House