Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands area is a three-country region just a short drive from Pittsburgh. Lushly forested, situated near the western ridges of the Appalachian Mountains and home to Pennsylvania’s tallest mountain and deepest river gorge, it is an area filled with history and culture.
Two of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most notable houses—Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob are located in the Laurel Highlands.
Nemacolin Resort and the Art of Hospitality
If you’re going to visit Laurel Highlands, you might as well experience the one-of-a-kind Nemacolin Resort. The chateau, built by 84 Lumber magnate James Hardy, was modeled after The Ritz Paris. With Waterford and Baccarat chandeliers and an extensive art collection featuring the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Frederic Remington, Tiffany Studios, Howard Behrens, J.J. Audubon and Frank Stella, among others, the sprawling resort is surprisingly intimate. Rooms are luxurious and well appointed and a meal at the resort’s premier restaurant, Lautrec, is not to be missed. But the best thing about Nemacolin is that even with so much art on display, the resort is not a museum. Valuable Tiffany lamps light the corners of public spaces. If you’d like to look at one of the large and very rare Audubon bird books, a specially-trained concierge will take it out and give you a pair of white cotton archivists gloves to turn the pages. Outdoors there are miles of trails, a ski hill and even a wild animal park to keep every member of the family amused.
The story behind Fallingwater is part of its legend. When wealthy Pittsburgh department store scion, Edgar Kaufmann, who had an appreciation for modern art and architecture, approached Frank Lloyd Wright about building a house in the Laurel Highlands countryside with a view of the picturesque waterfall on the property, Wright insisted on flipping the plan. In 1935 Wright proposed a multilevel, cantilevered structure built over the falls, making the stream and waterfall an integral part of the house. Built for a cost of $155,000, Fallingwater was immediately acclaimed as an architectural masterpiece and was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1938.
The Kaufmann family occupied the house until Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. placed it under the auspices of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963.
Today, more than 4.5 million people from all over the world visit the only Frank Lloyd Wright house open to the public with the original setting, art and furniture as they were when it was built. Tours are led by knowledgeable docents who provide in-depth tours with insights about the Kaufmann family and Wright’s design.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s House on Kentuck Knob, just seven miles from Fallingwater, was completed in 1956 for I.N. and Bernadine Hagan who had often admired Fallingwater. The native stone house sits just below the crest of a deeply wooded hillside with a spectacular view of the Pennsylvania countryside. The house is one of Wright’s Usonian homes, meant to be affordable for the average American. His plan called for narrow 18-inch hallways and low ceilings and central kitchen lit by a skylight.
When I.N. and Bernadine Hagan consulted Edgar Kaufmann about the best way to deal with the idiosyncratic designer, Kaufmann’s advice twas to decide what they wished to spend on their new home and then give Wright—who was famous for exceeding spending limits—a budget of half that. (They asked for a $60,000 house and Wright spent $98,000.)
In 1986 the Hagans sold Kentuck Knob to Lord Peter Palumbo of Great Britain. Lord Palumbo opened the house for tours and still visits his property each year.