Special Space at Buffalo's Darwin Martin House Revealed

BUFFALO, NY - Few homes in Buffalo are as well-known as Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House. The complex of five interconnected buildings greets thousands of visitors every year - many of them from all over the world.

What they come to see is a home the renowned architect held dear, referring to it as his opus. Most of the complex is open for tours, but not all.

In the Gardner's Cottage, set at the back of the property, the main floor is open - but neatly obscured from view by Wright's design is a narrow flight of stairs. It leads to the second floor, a place rarely seen. Behind a door at the end of the hallway, a special space, the master bedroom, now revealed.

"Most people never come up to this room," says Margie Stehlik, the Martin House Restoration Corporation Director of Operations.

Stehlik says the room is reserved for special guests and two ten year volunteers, selected at random each year for a special prize. "They win the opportunity to stay overnight here, and that is a big advantage to being a Martin House volunteer for 10 years or more."

The room's simplicity, like the rest of the Gardener's Cottage, reflects Wright's meticulous attention to detail. All the buildings at the Darwin Martin House Complex were designed with different members of society in mind.

"This was a servant space, and the main house was for a millionaire. There was a hierarchy of building materials, depending on who used the space. Even within the Martin House there were different classes of society because there was also servant space there," says Stehlik.

The art glass windows, a signature of the Martin House Complex, also highlight the difference between the servant quarters, with one simple pattern in the cottage - and the Martin's home with a variety of elaborate designs.

The main house, built between 1903 and 1905, had no budget - one of only three times Wright was given a blank check.

Now, more than a century later, these spaces are being painstakingly restored and in some cases rebuilt. And that budget, unlimited in Wright's day, has already cost 10's of millions of dollars today.

The windows themselves are a large part of the work that remains. Of the 394 in the home, only about 40 percent are here. For their care and preservation, each must be hand cleaned by volunteers. A job that usually takes an hour per window - but very much a labor of love. And the home itself, once again, a source of pride for Western New York.

"I think it's nice for other people to have a sense of what's here at the Martin House, and maybe other people will want to volunteer here," says Stehlik.


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