Historic Structures

B. E. Boynton House, Rochester New York

Date added: April 21, 2010 Categories: New York House

This well-preserved typical example of Frank Lloyd Wright's famous prairie house is unique in its completeness of an interior room. The dining room perhaps summarizes the architect's rather radical concept of interior space in 1908.

Edward Boynton was a very successful salesman and later partner in the Ham Lantern Company of Rochester. He first heard of Wright through Warren MacArthur, a business partner in the lantern company. Wright had built one of his earliest houses for MacArthur in the Kenwood district of Chicago in 1892. The Boyntons, Edward and his daughter, Beulah, selected Wright as the architect of their home after giving brief consideration to the work of Claude Bragdon, Rochester's leading modern architect. Wright participated in the choice of the site and insisted on the expensive addition of twenty-eight elm trees. Actually, Wright closely supervised the construction of the Boynton House. During the year in which it was built, Wright frequently and unexpectedly arrived at the site. Once there, he would never leave the house during his stay which often lasted two or three days. Generally speaking, the Boyntons were some of Wright's more affluent clients. The total cost of the house including the lot was $55,000 in 1908. But perhaps the most significant aspect of the architect-client relationship was the layman expertise and interest exhibited by Beulah Boynton, for whom her father built the house. Some of her design suggestions were incorporated into the structure and furniture by Wright, including the adjustable backs of the Wright-designed dining and lounge chairs. Like his other client of the same year, Mrs. Avery Coonley of Riverside, Illinois, Beulah Boynton seems to have established a certain rapport with Wright which is reflected in the direct supervision which the structure received. Beulah Boynton and her husband of 1908 lived in the house until 1918 when they moved to New York. When Wright visited the house in c. 1930, he seemed upset to discover that the house he had designed for a spacious rural setting had been encroached upon by nearly adjacent dwellings.

Over-all dimensions: One hundred and eighteen feet, three and one half inches by fifty-two feet 5 ten inches; two stories; longitudinal plan with minor central cross axis formed by stair tower to the north and dining room to the south.

First floor: The north central hall opens to the living room at the west. The fireplace divides the hall from the living room. At the west end of the living room is located the fountain room, two steps lower than the living room. To the north of the hall, the stair tower accommodates the entrance vestibule, three steps lower than the hall, the stairs to the second floor and the powder room under the stairs. The library adjoins the stair tower to the east. To the south, the hall opens to the dining room which extends south into the bay. The pantry, kitchen and servants quarters extend progressively to the east of the dining room. The servants quarters consist of a bedroom, an adjoining room and bath.

Second floor: The stairs terminate in an upstairs hall. An east-west corridor provides access to the bedrooms. To the west, the corridor ends in the master bedroom. Its bath and dressing room parallel the corridor to the north. The second large bedroom is located to the south side of the corridor, with its accompanying bath and dressing room also parallel to the east-west corridor. The third bedroom adjoins the stair tower to the north. The east end of the corridor opens to a bath on the south and a fourth bedroom to the east.

Special decorative features: Boxed and grilled radiator covers are located throughout the house. The massive hearth separating the living room from the hall is finished with Roman bricks, twelve inches by four inches by one and a half inches. The low concrete lintel tops the rectangular opening. The fireplace is finished with a projecting concrete base. The living room is fitted with low, glass doored bookcases along the north and south walls, under the windows.

The dining room is complete and as it was in 1908. All the furniture designed by Wright and built locally is in place, including two dining room tables each with a complete set of chairs, sideboard, serving tables, flower stands, side chairs, electric light fixtures, original leaded glass in sideboards and cabinetry. Perhaps the rug was selected by Wright as its color is identical to the glass in some of the windows. The clerestory windows and the indirect lighting fixtures emphasize the three level ceiling: the lowest level above the breakfast or luncheon table which is located in the bay and the upper level at the top of the clerestory windows, A drop ceiling is then extended from the north wall of the dining room almost to the south clerestory windows. The drop ceiling accommodates three leaded glass window panels which are located above the formal dining table with its comer pier lighted flower stands. The entire composition is united with narrow ceiling and upper wall moldings which abut the horizontal banding and casements.