Preservation Magazine, Spring 2020

Frank Lloyd Wright Designed These Plywood Chairs for the Pope-Leighey House

In 1939, Frank Lloyd Wright described his organic architecture as “exalting the simple laws of common sense … determining form by way of the nature of materials.” The 12 plywood chairs he designed around the same time for his Pope-Leighey House, a National Trust Historic Site in Alexandria, Virginia, perfectly illustrate his point.

The clean-lined, modular pieces were made by contractor Howard C. Rickert using screws and glue. Their innate flexibility—they can be arranged to form a longer bench or used individually as dining or living room seating—makes them as eminently practical today as the day they were built. And by staining the plywood rather than painting or otherwise finishing it, Wright celebrated this humble material. “It’s all about the honesty of the materials,” says Ashley Wilson, the National Trust’s Graham Gund Architect. “You can see the grain—there’s no attempt to hide the fact that it’s plywood.”

The cushions of the chair shown, along with those of its accompanying Wright-designed ottoman, were covered in F. Schumacher & Co.’s Imperial Triangle fabric (also designed by Wright) during the 1990s. This piece, as well as five more original chairs and eight replicas, are on display at the Pope-Leighey House.

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Chair at Pope-Leighey House

photo by: Scott Suchman

The 12 modular chairs encapsulate the straightforward, organic design of Wright's Usonian houses.

Headshot Meghan Drueding

Meghan Drueding is the executive editor of Preservation magazine. She has a weakness for Midcentury Modernism, walkable cities, and coffee-table books about architecture and design.

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