Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House. Photo courtesy of the LA Times.
Designed in 1923, the Ennis House stands out both in the canon of modern architecture as well as in the career of Frank Lloyd Wright, the home’s architect. Favored by filmmakers for its dramatic and exotic appearance, the Los Angeles home has been used in numerous films, commercials and fashion shoots.
A cantankerous womanizer, Frank Lloyd Wright was perhaps the United States’ most prolific architect. Born in 1867, Wright designed over 1000 structures in the course of his career, including some of the most recognizable buildings in the world. Beginning his practice in Chicago, Wright’s work was heavily influenced by the landscape of the American Midwest and horizontal planes feature prominently in his architecture. By the 1920s, when Wright began working in California, he was already internationally famous. His innovative design work, which promoted open-plan living and contrasted the cluttered and boxlike interiors of the late-nineteenth-century, was hailed as distinctly modern and uniquely American.
Frank Lloyd Wright and his third wife, Olgivanna. Photo courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
The Ennis House. Photo by Eric Gardner on Flickr.
Between 1919 and 1924 Wright designed five houses in California, all of which were a marked change from the domestic work he had completed previously. While utilizing concrete in all five of the projects, the later four houses manipulate the material in a particularly interesting manner. The Alice Millard House, the John Storer House, the Samuel Freeman House and the Ennis House were all built using a construction technique Wright described as textile block architecture.
The Samuel Freeman House, 1923. Photo by army.arch on Flickr.
The John Storer House, 1923. Photo by Eric Gardner on Flickr.
The Alice Millard House, 1924. Photo courtesy of MillardHouse.com.
The technique was dependent upon 16-inch-square cast-concrete blocks with grooves on all four sides. To reduce their weight, the blocks were made concave with thick edges and thin centers. When laid in courses, the grooves in the blocks formed hollow channels horizontally and vertically throughout the wall. Steel rebar was placed in these channels, which were then filled with grout.
Diagram detailing the construction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s textile block houses. Image courtesy of SaveWright.org.
The Ennis House was designed for Charles Ennis, the owner of a men’s clothing store in downtown Los Angeles, and his wife Mabel. Overlooking Los Angeles, the house is sited on a step hillside in Los Feliz. Approximately 6,000 square feet, the Ennis House contains three bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms, and staff quarters. While the house is certainly large, its monumental appearance is added to by its massive concrete-block retaining wall that allows for the house’s extensive terraces and gardens.
Floor plan of the main living floor of the Ennis House. Image courtesy of SaveWright.org.
Image of the Ennis House taken by Julius Shulman between 1953-1968. Image courtesy of Marina Chetner.
The house is walled off from the street and the property is entered through a large wrought iron gate. Once through the gate, a paved terrace separates the garages and staff quarters from the main house. The house is entered through a small door, which leads to a narrow and dark stair passage. The stairs lead up to the main living floor, which feature lofty ceilings and panoramic views. The public spaces of the house flow into one another while the private spaces are accessed by a long loggia.
Charles Ennis was interested in pre-Columbian architecture and design. Exotic motifs are prevalent throughout the house, including on the entrance gate. Photo courtesy of the LA Times.
The staircase leading up to the main living floor. Photo courtesy of the LA Times.
With its high ceilings and large room dimensions, the interior of the Ennis House is different than other Wright-designed interiors. The decoration of the house, as well, largely reflects the Ennis’ taste rather than Wright’s. Famously obsessive, Wright wanted the ability to design all components of a project. Furniture was often built-in to the structure of a house so that a client could not rearrange it. Charles and Mabel Ennis, however, must have matched Wright in stubbornness, as he made a series of concessions in the design of the house. Stained glass, which Wright designed for his earlier houses, was incorporated into the house at the insistence of Mabel Ennis as well as the iridized glass mosaic fireplace in the living room. The floors, which are white marble and teak, are also unique for a Frank Lloyd Wright interior.
View from the living room to the hall. The iridized glass mosaic fireplace can be seen on the right. Photo courtesy of the LA Times.
The dining room. Photo courtesy of the LA Times.
The stained glass that Mabel insisted upon. Photo courtesy of the LA Times.
A fantastic bathroom that features a sunken bathtub. Photo courtesy of the LA Times.
AUTHOR VINCENT WILCKE
A Portland, Oregon native, Vincent is particularly interested in historic interiors and decorative arts. His love for historic architecture was indulged at an early age by his parents, who kindly accompanied him on countless tours of historic houses and sites. Vincent lives in South Harlem with his partner, Nate, and their formally feral cat named Edna.