Don Erickson Estate

It goes without saying that Frank Lloyd Wright had an unmistakable, profound and permanent impact on architecture. However, the degree of profundity and permanence becomes clearer with each degree of separation; which is to say that we may all be much closer to the genius architect than we think...

The Erickson Estate

A Change of Plans

I penned a previous article about the man who designed Indian Lakes Resort in Bloomingdale, IL. From that article:

His name is Don Erickson, an apprentice of Wright's from 1948 to 1951, and he had actually once dreamed of being a concert pianist. Time spent with Wright had changed his mind, and lucky for us it did."

Gazing upon the bold lines and angles that created the grace and aesthetics of Indian Lakes, I sensed what was obviously but a small fraction of Wright's powerful and ultimate influence on his protégés. And just prior to this past Christmas (2009), my wife and I shared a unique -- and also quite profound -- experience when we were afforded a rare opportunity to visit the home of the late Don Erickson. It is one thing to see an architect's designs; it is quite another to visit their personal residence. For me, the feeling was much the same as when I visited Taliesin in Spring Green, WI in August (2009). To walk the floors where they have walked and see the walls, windows and spaces they have created is nearly indescribable.

The Erickson Estate

In 1966, Erickson acquired ten acres of pristine wooded land on the north side of Barrington, built a house on it and lived there with his wife and three children. Neither the architect nor his family were home on a warm and muggy, late spring day in April of 1967 when an F-4 tornado -- one of nineteen that day, resulting from the development of rotating supercells along a line of storms that was moving across northern Illinois that afternoon -- struck Fox River Grove, Barrington Hills and Lake Zurich just before 5:00pm, producing a path of destruction nine miles long. That particular twister destroyed 140 homes and damaged another 463; one of those destroyed was the home of Don Erickson. (As an aside, I personally experienced one of the nineteen: an F-2 that struck Batavia and Geneva at around 4:00pm.) Erickson however, did rebuild the home on the original foundation and lived there the rest of his life.

The Erickson Estate

And what a home he rebuilt! Finished circa 1969, the low-slung, single story home embraces a gentle slope of the ten-acre site and is immediately one with the land. Inside, the 6,000 plus square feet of living space boasts plenty of warm wood, exposed brick and glass. Along with the numerous skylights, Douglas Fir ceilings and walls of glass, it has everything that one could ask for in a home, including a 31-ft by 31-ft master bedroom and one of the finest kitchens I have ever seen (the side-by-side Viking ovens alone would likely impress any gourmand).

“My theory is you don’t design until you analyze what the clients needs are. You have to analyze the problem. You do that up here, not with a pencil. When you analyze the problem, the solution becomes apparent. The problem becomes the solution which becomes the idea. I always come up with the idea sitting and listening to classical music, or driving in a car, or over the roar of the jet engine, flying cross country. You argue with yourself. You become enough of a critic to overcome the euphoria of an idea. You have to bring the euphoria to something which is manageable, which works, which is within your budget." -- Don Erickson

I could ramble for a long time about the specifics of the residence. But I won't... for the simple reason that something else drew my attention away from the obvious. It was the attention to detail in every room; it was the facing on cabinets, the soft and subtle lighting and it was an incredible sense that both Don Erickson and Frank Lloyd Wright had collaborated on the project. The long and sweeping, horizontal lines, the wonderfully successful use of space, and the genuine feeling of warmth and energy that flowed throughout the home as a stream flows effortlessly through a forest. The master's indelible imprint on the apprentice had come full circle: the apprentice was now a master as well, and the marriage of thought and idea was true harmony.

The other thing that became increasingly evident as we walked throughout the home was that Don Erickson really enjoyed being an architect. That joy can be sensed in every room. On Tuesday, Oct. 24 of 2006 and at the age of 77, Don Erickson finally succumbed to multiple myeloma, which he had bravely battled for 13 years. The world had lost another master, but I would imagine he is still designing beautiful buildings...

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The Erickson Estate


26280 W Route 22
Barrington, Illinois

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Privately owned residence.

The Erickson Estate

Quick Links

A Taliesin Legacy: The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright's Apprentices (Architecture Series)  

Years with Frank Lloyd Wright: Apprentice to Genius (Dover Architecture)