After Frank Lloyd Wright built the first Usonian home in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1936, he spent decades iterating on his concept of affordable middle-class housing, tweaking angles and rooflines so that each design, while almost always single-story and full of windows, was still slightly different.
Take this Usonian in Glenview, a suburb about 40 minutes north of Chicago, which has around 80 Wright-designed homes in its metro area. Commissioned in 1950 by local John Carr, the L-shaped, 1,800-square-foot house sits on three acres with more than 50 oak trees, just a few minutes west of town center.
Not much changed on the property (although the Carr family did add an in-ground heated pool in 1958) until 1965, when the Carr family sold the home to Edward and Carol Ann Busche. An industrial architect by training, Edward Busche took on the daunting task of adding a larger master bedroom and more space for entertaining without sacrificing the authenticity of Wright’s Usonian design. “[My father] really struggled with it,” says the couple’s son, Brian, who grew up in the house. “You don’t want to do it wrong.”
The new master suite, a larger dining room, and a windowed, porch-like room on the back of the house added about 1,700 square feet, but Busche was careful to maintain Wright’s original roof line.
Matching the interior materials was even more challenging. “I remember going to lumber yards [as a 12-year-old] with my dad and trying to handpick mahogany boards directly off of the railcards to find boards that would match the original ceiling,” Brian recalls. The gray-hued flagstone floors were also carefully coordinated to the original and Edward installed new breeze blocks that replicated the pierced shape found in the original breeze blocks in the common areas. The process involved first re-creating the perforated shape with mahogany and then using those pieces as a mold for new masonry blocks (the mahogany forms were later dusted off and hung over one of the home’s four fireplaces as mementos).
In the middle of construction in 1980, Brian says, they opened up one of the mahogany walls to take some boards down. And as they were opening the wall, exposing some of the studs and framing, Brian says, “my father showed me where Frank Lloyd Wright had signed his initials on one of the studs.” (The original owners also made their mark. On the concrete slab underneath the carport, scribbles of names appear etched into the ground. “This is the house that Jack built,” says one, using John Carr’s nickname.)
Since the Busches’ careful expansion, the home has remained largely the same. Two fireplaces — including one in a sunken conversation pit — dominate the living room area, and 18 pairs of French doors lead out to the pool. Under the Carrs’ ownership, the kitchen had white formica stamped with red and green amoeba shapes; the Busche family added the current stainless steel-edged and rust-colored counters to better match the brick. The kitchen and butler’s pantry (along with most of the other rooms in the house) also have skylights to let in natural light. Brian notes that the skylights have a fluorescent fixture inside to simulate natural light during the darkest days of the year.
Unlike many other Wright designs, this house has stayed out of the spotlight. The Busches told Crain’s Chicago Business in 2014 that they didn’t have the home landmarked or put up for tours because they liked “having this special place to ourselves.”