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Avery Coonley Schoolhouse

Posted by
Steven (Chicagoland, United States) on 8 October 2018 in Architecture and Portfolio.

One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most interesting homes wasn’t originally designed to be a home at all—it was a schoolhouse.

In 1908, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to build an estate for Avery Coonley and Queene Ferry Coonley in suburban Riverside, Illinois. After the mansion was completed in 1912, the couple tapped the architect to design a schoolhouse nearby.

The school was only used as such until 1919 when it became a family residence. Wright‘s assistant, William Drummond, was brought in to convert the property on Fairbank Road into a home. The Cottage School, later renamed the Avery Coonley School, moved to Downers Grove and is still open today.

Sometimes referred to as the Avery Coonley Playhouse, the two-bedroom structure is remarkable for a number of reasons. It served as a testing ground for many concepts Wright would later use in his Usonia homes such as flat, cantilevered roofs and lots of built-in shelving.

Another special feature are the art glass windows which depict a colorful, almost confetti-like design. It’s the first instance where Wright uses circles—and the only time he incorporated an American flag—into his traditionally straight line aesthetic. The original triptych window from the schoolhouse is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, but the home has a museum-quality replica.

Owners Susan Shipper-Smith and Ted Smith have worked on restoring the home since 1980. When the couple bought the property, the flooring was cracked and wood was painted over. They made preservation a priority making sure to restore, and sometimes recreate, its architectural details.

Some original windows were saved and the cracked-beyond-repair wood flooring was redone in an authentic fashion. A new roof was installed in 2012 and the home’s electrical, plumbing, and heating is all new too.

The cross-shaped home also comes with two separate structures built at different times now used as garages on the half-acre site. The fireplace at one end of the home is on a raised platform which Coonley used as a stage for school performances and behind nearby wooden panels is the kitchen.

While the structure was built as a school, it did have a kitchen back then. Kids helped prepare lunch at the schoolhouse, so the space was designed to accommodate them. When a renovation does take place, some counters will need a lift if the new owners are interested in a more adult-friendly layout.

Photo captured August 11, 2018.

NIKON D7000 1/125 second F/5.6 ISO 200 22 mm

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Spotlight Images

By Marie from Entre montagnes et Bretagne, France

Beautiful symphony of greens. A nice place to the students

8 Oct 2018 5:07am

Pascale MD from Occitanie, France

Une belle composition et une architecture originale même si elle ne me séduit pas forcément beaucoup.
Bonne journée Steven

8 Oct 2018 6:33am

Marjolein from Westvoorne, Netherlands


8 Oct 2018 6:36am

Wallace from Burlington, Canada

Excellent find.. Well presented.

8 Oct 2018 6:53am

Existence Artistique from Angers, France

beaux verts

8 Oct 2018 7:33am

Hiro from Kyoto, Japan

The students must be happy

8 Oct 2018 9:36am

Shaun from Massachusetts, United States

A superb image of this building. Your information is really interesting on the history and owners of the Schoolhouse.

8 Oct 2018 10:56am

Ruthiebear from Titusville, NJ, United States

Quite a history! I love how you composed this to allow the greenery to frame the interesting architecture

8 Oct 2018 12:18pm

Rick from Toronto, Canada

It is beautifully designed to be one with its surroundings. An excellent presentation here in both word and photo.

8 Oct 2018 2:48pm

willy from Belgium

une bien jolie photo de ce bel endroit Steven

et des informations intéressantes


8 Oct 2018 3:08pm

Nicou from Sion, Switzerland

Cet édifice avec le reflet dans le vitrage se fond avec la végétaiton sueprbe.
belle soirée

8 Oct 2018 3:19pm

Adela Fonts from Barcelona, Spain

Interesting explanation and a beautiful image... greetings!

8 Oct 2018 3:22pm

grouser from Ludlow, United Kingdom

what a nice place to go to school it must have been. Lovely capture and colour palette

8 Oct 2018 3:50pm

Anna Cherer from LA ROCHELLE, France

Beautiful range of green !

8 Oct 2018 4:13pm

Jypyä Pop from Turku, Finland

Stunning garden

8 Oct 2018 5:33pm

Steve Rice from Olympia, United States

A fascinating history to accompany this handsome house.

8 Oct 2018 6:04pm

sherri from Little Rock, Arkansas, United States

looks like it's straight out of the 1950's

8 Oct 2018 6:36pm

London Caller from United Kingdom

I would like to see what's inside this "school" now.

8 Oct 2018 8:31pm

Elaine Hancock from Olney, United States

This is a beautiful home. It has quite an interesting history. I am glad that the present owners have taken care to renovate and preserve it.

8 Oct 2018 11:45pm

Michael Rawluk from Williams Lake, BC, Canada

So nice. I thought it was his even before reading.

9 Oct 2018 2:07am

The Yum List from KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia

You can probably predict what I'm going to say by now. I love all of that green!

9 Oct 2018 2:36am

Elizabeth Buckalew from Flagstaff, AZ, United States

I do love FLW... an interesting color choice for this building.

9 Oct 2018 4:13am

yoshimiparis from France

it must be a nice place where the children study, surrounded by nature which is pretty

9 Oct 2018 4:51am

Remus from Portugal

No doubt Frank Lloyd Wright was a talented architect. Their works are wonderful.

9 Oct 2018 2:14pm

Francisco Romero from Leon, Spain

Another imaginative building of such an icon as Frank Lloyd Wright. Beautiful image.

9 Oct 2018 4:56pm

karla from Omaha, United States

Great that this house is being renovated -- what an enduring project they have taken on, but for a great cause. Love to see that houses are renovated with preservation in mind. Thanks for the lovely picture and also the information you provided.

14 Nov 2018 4:21am