While Fallingwater is principally Wright’s creation, the Kaufmanns were active participants in the design process. The family closely scrutinized plans and offered suggestions to improve the livability and rusticity of their country house. Wright integrated many of the Kaufmanns’ recommendations, including a foot bath at the entry, a plunge pool below the pottery terrace, and caned shelves for the linen cabinets.
Along with these modifications to Wright’s plans were several rejections of design elements the Kaufmanns viewed as inconsistent with easy-going country life. In early drawings of the living room, Wright proposed rugs laid out on a well-defined grid, barrel chairs for the dining table and partner’s desk, and tall pole lamps to light the room at night. The Kaufmanns decided against all these proposals, arguing they introduced too much formality into an otherwise relaxed space.
Wright also defined an orchestrated layout for the living room’s moveable furniture, placing hassocks (ottomans), zabutons (floor cushions), side tables, and coffee tables in asymmetrical arrangements in front of the sofas. The Kaufmanns never conformed to Wright’s intended placements; however, they did maintain the overall feel of asymmetry, just with a looser approach.
On the exterior, Wright recommended gold leaf for the concrete, likely drawing on his Japanese experience and knowledge of gilded temples. The Kaufmanns thought gold leaf a bit too extravagant and inappropriate for a mountain house. Wright then suggested a white-mica finish from Super Concrete Emulsions, Ltd., a Los Angeles company. Again, the Kaufmanns rejected this idea, stating that the finish should blend with the stonework. Ultimately, they agreed upon a waterproof cement paint called Cemelith in a light ocher, a color which Wright described as taking inspiration from “the sere leaves of the rhododendron.”
The collaboration between client and architect resulted in the Fallingwater we are all familiar with today. But what if the Kaufmanns had accepted Wright’s initial recommendations for the living room and the house’s concrete finish? By recreating the living room in virtual reality and incorporating all of Wright’s proposals, in both furniture and layout, one discovers a drastically different space. The same is true on the exterior, when gold leaf and mica are substituted for ocher.
Through this virtual tour of the living room and the classic view of the exterior, a new experience of one of America’s most recognizable houses is created. While the family never intended the house to appear this way, it is interesting to explore and expresses how significantly a design can evolve from initial conception to final product.