Farnsworth House visit — a perfect Chicago day trip
Farnsworth House visit
From the many times I’ve visited Chicago, I’ve rarely left the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods, like Wicker Park. This is because we’re usually there visiting family, and don’t tend to venture too far out.
However, on this trip, we took the opportunity to make a day trip to Farnsworth House. It’s a masterpiece of modern architecture, designed by German-American architect Mies van der Rohe.
How to reach Farnsworth House
A car is a necessity to get to Farnsworth House. It’s quite a distance from downtown Chicago, in a rural area of Illinois called Plano. It took around 1.5 hours to get there from the city, and that was with minimal traffic.
The history behind Farnsworth House
The house takes its name from its former owner, Dr Edith Farnsworth — a prominent doctor during her time. She commissioned van der Rohe to design a weekend home where she could relax and enjoy the surrounding nature.
Responding to the brief, van der Rohe created the glass and steel structure. Designed and constructed between 1949 and 1951, Farnsworth House is one of the finest examples of modern architecture. Measuring 1,500 sq ft, the house is built on a wooden site facing the Fox River.
Years gone by — Farnsworth House visit
Farnsworth House has undergone several refurbishments since 1951. British property magnate Peter Palumbo bought the property in 1972, and added air conditioning and extensive landscaping to the grounds. The house underwent more repairs after a severe flood damaged the property in 1996.
After Palumbo sold the property in 2003, the National Trust for Historical Preservation and Landmarks Illinois purchased the house. It’s now a National Historic Landmark of the US.
To visit the other must-see landmarks in Chicago, skip the lines and book your tickets in advance.
Farnsworth House design
The white glass and steel house is simple yet striking.
Two rectangular spaces arranged together; the larger comprises the living area, and the smaller, the low terrace at the entrance.
One of its most remarkable design features is that it doesn’t touch the ground. This was to protect the house from floodwaters from the river. In effect, Farnsworth House appears to be afloat.
Striking inside and out — Farnsworth House visit
Its surrounding environment is equally beautiful, with the vast green lands and the view of the Fox River.
On a perfect spring day, the house beams even more brightly in the sunshine. Unfortunately, the peaceful ambience that once was there, is now overshadowed by the noise of traffic from the highway bridge.
It was 1968 when the highway department informed Dr Farnsworth of the plans to erect a bridge nearby. Unhappy about the proposed bridge, she sued the highway department, but lost.
As a result, she eventually sold the house and moved to her villa in Italy.
“Van der Rohe designed the house so that you can enjoy the surrounding nature inside from any point.”
FOLLOWING THE RIVERA
Farnsworth House interior
Made from steel and glass, the impressive design extends once you enter the house. After walking up 2 short flights of steps, you open the doors to walk into Farnsworth House interior.
The first thing that hits you are the incredible views. Van der rohe designed the house so that you can enjoy the surrounding nature inside from any point. There’s also a different sensation when inside looking out, as opposed to the other way around.
Essentially, Farnsworth house is one large room — an open space with no dictated zones. A simple décor of brown and cream work its way throughout the interior.
Some of the current furniture comes from Mies’ grandson, Dirk Lohan, who himself is an architect.
I was particularly drawn to the stylish ‘Barcelona’ chairs that you can see at the dining table and desk.
Open space, freestanding elements
Behind the main wooden panel when you enter Farnsworth House is a hidden guest bathroom.
This and the main bathroom are also enclosed in the core, to give the impression of a larger living space.
Walk around the house, and you’ll find a fireplace and another seating area, all in the same matching color scheme.
My favorite part of the Farnsworth House visit is the bedroom.
It’s towards the end of the back of the house, with views overlooking the sprawling nature outside.
The bed also matches the simple yet understated feel, and I’d happily wake up with the surrounding nature.
In essence, it’s a modern house built before its time.
During the colder months, heat comes through a radiant coil system in the floor, and hot water from a central boiler.
There are also blinds on the full-length windows to give the house coverage from the outside.
Farnsworth House visit tips
1. Buy tickets before visiting
Farnsworth House runs timed tours, so don’t take your chance and just turn up.
2. Don’t turn up too early
While it’s usually better to be early than late, I suggest arriving 10-15 minutes before the tour starts.
This gives you sufficient time to collect your tickets, use the bathroom, and browse the shop.
Plano is in the Illinois countryside, and there’s not much to do inside the visitor center when you arrive.
3. You need permission to photograph inside
“Designed and constructed between 1949 and 1951, Farnsworth House is one of the finest examples of modern architecture.”
FOLLOWING THE RIVERA
4. Wear comfortable shoes and appropriate clothing
There’s a bit of a walk through the woodlands from the visitor center to the house.
Depending on the season, you may also encounter mosquitoes and prickly flora and fauna that may irritate the skin.
5. Wear socks
This may sound like a strange tip, but they won’t allow you into the house with no socks.
All visitors have to remove their shoes at the entrance of the house.
If you don’t have any, the reception will also provide some for you.
Where to stay in Chicago
If you’re looking for excellent accommodation in the city, why not consider the superb Thompson Chicago.
Stylish and modern, this luxury boutique hotel has 247 rooms, with floor to ceiling windows, and in a prime location.
They also offer unforgettable views over Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.
Address: 14520 River Rd, Plano, IL 60545, USA
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Welcome to my site! I'm Lisa, founder of Following the Rivera. I write primarily for a ‘flashpacker’ audience, a demographic (late 20s onward) that enjoys glamping over camping and staying at boutique/luxury boutique hotels. Flashpackers also like to indulge in the local food and wine, cultural activities, as well as a spot of wellness on their travels. Want to know more? Read on....