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Entryway to Farnsworth House

Farnsworth House, Plano

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There’s something extra special on the Fox River in Plano, Illinois. It’s called Farnsworth House. Designed by Mies van der Rohe for Chicago physician, Edith Farnsworth and completed in 1951, this summer “cottage” is an icon of modernist architecture and it’s surprisingly homey despite the absence of anything cozy or rustic about it. 54 years old, the place looks very up-to-date; contrary to heavy 50’s hints in the food prep area.

The Getaway Guys took the guided tour on an intermittently rainy August Saturday. Alan was apprehensive about weather cooperation, but Neil’s response was “we’ll worry about it when we get there.” From the Visitors’ Center ( the tour group took a pleasant walk through (damp) overhanging foliage down to the banks of the Fox where, as if by magic, they were face to face with the stark elegance of a glass and steel box in a leafy clearing. farnsworth1Once isolated in a landscape of prairie grass, Farnsworth House is now surrounded by woods and the Getaway Guys wondered if either Mies or Farnsworth ever envisioned such a dramatic change. Stark Miesian design in a “woodsy” setting may seem odd, but Neil and Alan thought it worked perfectly.

Peter Palumbo acquired the Farnsworth summer getaway in ’72 and retained Dirk Lohan (Mies’s grandson ) to restore the place. Over the years, practical touches not in keeping with the Mies spirit were added and important Meis elements were omitted. The place never had the right (Mies) furniture, not because Farnsworth disliked it, but because she disliked her architect (not an uncommon occurrence) by the time the place was finished. Aside from rumors about a possible romance that didn’t follow the script one participant may have had in mind, Farnsworth felt over charged. For $71,000.00 (in ‘50s dough) she didn’t think she got her money’s worth. Among other things, there were no closets! On this point Neil agreed with Farnsworth and Alan took Mies’s side.

farnsworth2The State of Illinois guide (an architecture student) was outstanding and the book-gift area of the Visitor’s Center had a very good balance of material. Along with serious volumes on architecture and a tasteful selection of decorative items for sale , the Center houses an in-depth display of interpretative material explaining the evolution of the house and property from idea to a State of Illinois jewel. The Getaway Guys agreed (for once); for $20.00 apiece the tour was a steal.

Tour over, Visitors’ Center perused, slightly damp and hungry, the Getaway Guys moved south along U.S. 34 to Sandwich and a colorful place called Kelly’s Pub and American Grill ( where, in an old Pullman car once used by Teddy Roosevelt, they had a good and plentiful meal at very reasonable prices. The atmosphere was unusual and a lot of fun. Running short of time Sandwich unfortunately didn’t get a good once over, but noted for future reference was a very nice looking restaurant with an interesting décor on the main drag called Rick’s Place. September 2006

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