Photos by Hillary Ehlen
Sixty years after his death, Frank Lloyd Wright undoubtedly remains the most famous American architect. Eight buildings he designed during his long career were recently designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Not only was he a prolific designer himself, but several generations of his family followed him into prominence. His son John Lloyd Wright also became an architect (and invented Lincoln Logs toys), and John’s daughter Elizabeth subsequently followed into the profession.
In 1958 Elizabeth Wright Ingraham, Frank Lloyd Wright’s granddaughter, designed a beautiful home along the Red River in Fargo for George Anderson, who was president of the Lincoln Mutual Life Insurance Company. Now owned by John and Sherri Stern, the home exemplifies the Usonian ideal pursued by Frank Lloyd Wright from the 1930s to the mid-20th century. The Usonian home responded to changes in domestic living that began to emerge after the First World War. Gone were spaces for domestic servants, as well as attics. Rooflines were simple, the plan was a grid for efficient construction, and ornamentation was minimized in favor of emphasizing the natural color and texture of wood and brick.
The Stern home’s low-slung profile nestles gently into the landscape at the top of the flood plain, while the L-shaped plan allows beautiful views from the living room to the riverscape below. Natural light is integral to the plan, as clerestory windows below the ceiling surround the house, except in the living room where tall windows give the expansive view to the river. Inside the home, wood dominates. Walls are of cherry and mahogany, with built-in closets and cabinetry in each room. Other walls are of long, narrow red brick separated by crisply raked mortar joints. Inside the front entrance, ceilings have the low seven-foot height characteristic of the Wright tradition, but then the space rises four steps to a living room open wide with tall ceilings and those large windows looking out upon the river.
The home is small by current standards, about 1,800 square feet, though its airy feeling makes it seem much bigger, partly due to the wide overhangs and wood baffles surrounding the home’s exterior, offering shade and protection to the front entrance and the rear patio. Changes made over the years to accommodate modern living have carefully respected the home’s design. In fact, the owners still retain the original plans and specifications from when the home was built in 1958.
Elizabeth Wright Ingraham said that architecture is a message a civilization leaves about itself to the future, and the home she designed in Fargo is a testament to the enduring value of beautiful design. In 2017 it received the honor of being included in the National Register of Historic Places.