The Three (Tragic) Lives of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin House

Frank Lloyd Wright is undoubtedly one of the most influential architects of all time. The American architect was born and raised in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin, which left a lasting impression on his young mind and inspired many of his most iconic works. 

At the age of 29, in 1896, Wright built a windmill on the Taliesin estate, on land that belonged to his mother’s family. The project, requested by his aunt, was the first in a series of developments that over the years became part of the 600-acre Taliesin estate as we know it today. 

Wright would return to his homeland of Taliesin in 1911, under more controversial circumstances.

In the early 1900s, Wright was married to Catherine Lee Tobin, had six children, and was living in Oak Park, Illinois. He was then tasked to design a house for his friend and neighbor Edwin Cheney, when he fell in love with his friend’s wife, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. In a daring and controversial move, the two lovers ran off to Europe, where their affair flourished, and when they returned to the U.S., they wanted a place to call their own, far from the judgmental eyes of the public.

That’s when Frank Lloyd Wright decided to leave his Chicago family behind, return to his roots and build a house for himself and Mamah in the secluded hills of Taliesin. 

Taliesin I — the “love cottage” with a harrowing story

Taliesin I, as we now call it, was completed in 1911 near Spring Green, Wisconsin, to serve as the home of Wright and Borthwick. The home/studio that Wright created is the quintessential representation of the architect’s Prairie School design. 

Wright described the 12,000-square-foot house as ‘low, wide, and snug,’ and that’s exactly what it is. The house, which was named after the Welsh bard Taliesin — and translates into ‘shining brow’ — was the result of Wright’s attempt to blend man-made structures and materials with nature and the elements. 

taliesin the home of frank lloyd wright
Taliesin I, courtesy of the Utah Department of heritage & Arts

The house had an open-space design, with windows placed so that the sun could come through in every room at every point of the day. All the materials used in the construction were locally sourced, in an effort to seamlessly integrate the house with its surroundings. 

Wright was a big fan of Japanese culture and architecture, and he was inspired to bring a taste of Japan to Taliesin, as well. The architect’s home included an artificial lake stocked with fish and aquatic fowl, a water garden, as well as a ‘tea circle’ in the middle of the spacious, green courtyard. 

The home that Wright built was stunning, and to this day it remains one of his most beautiful creations.

The beauty of Taliesin, however, did not do much to impress those living in nearby communities, who disapproved of Wright’s relationship with Borthwick. At the time the couple lived in Wisconsin, Borthwick had divorced Cheney, but Wright was still married, as Catherine Tobin refused him a divorce. Due to the scandalous aspect of their relationship, locals and media dubbed Taliesin ‘the Love Cottage.’ 

Taliesin, courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Nonetheless, the couple lived happily at Taliesin, joined by Mamah Borthwick’s two children and a number of household workers and employees.

Among those employees were Julian Carlton, a handyman and servant, and his wife Gertrude.

In 1914, the 31-year-old worker started acting strangely, becoming more and more paranoid and staring out the windows holding an axe. Given his strange behavior, Wright and Borthwick decided to let the couple go, and they gave Carlton and his wife notice in mid-August.

The events that followed the next day, on August 15, 1914, were so shocking that Taliesin will unfortunately forever be associated with them. 

Taliesin interior, courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

That August day, while Wright was away on business, Julian Carlton attacked Mamah Borthwick and her two children, ending their lives. He then turned against the other members of the household, after which he set the house on fire.

His killing spree ended the lives of Borthwick, her two children, as well as two other workers and their young boy. Following the attack, Carlton hid in the basement’s fireproof furnace, and swallowed hydrochloric acid in an attempt to end his own life. Somehow, he survived, and he was arrested and taken into custody.

While awaiting his trial and sentencing, he died of starvation, as the acid he swallowed had burned his esophagus to the extent that he could no longer eat. Carlton’s wife was luckily not in the house at the time, as she was waiting for her husband to join her on a train to Chicago.

SEE ALSO: How the Sharon Tate Murder House on Cielo Drive Shed Its Sordid Past — Movie Tie-in with Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Taliesin II

Taliesin I was, in large part, destroyed, and Frank Lloyd Wright was left heartbroken, losing the love of his life and the beloved home that they shared. He was so devastated that he couldn’t even bring himself to hold a vigil or a formal funeral for Borthwick, instead burying her in an unmarked grave in a nearby graveyard. 

However, Wright soon got back on his feet and decided to rebuild Taliesin. By the end of 1914, he had built Taliesin II, and had found companionship in Miriam Noel, who sent him a condolence letter after that summer’s massacre. 

Taliesin, Saturday August 17, 2013. / © Mark Hertzberg via Wright in Wisconsin

Wright, however, only settled in at Taliesin II in 1922, after he finished work on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. He was finally granted a divorce by Catherine Tobin, and married Miriam Noel in 1923. The marriage, however, was doomed to not last, as Noel’s erratic behavior, later diagnosed as schizophrenia, led to a tense relationship between her and Wright. 

Noel eventually left Wright and moved out of Taliesin II in 1924. One year later, in an eerie turn of events, Taliesin II burned to the ground due to faulty wiring, and Wright was back to square one. However, like a phoenix, Taliesin would rise from the ashes once again.

Taliesin III

the tragic story of taliesin frank lloyd wright house
courtesy of Taliesin Preservation

Even after two fires tried to destroy his work, Frank Lloyd Wright was not ready to give up on Taliesin, and he rebuilt it once again, as Taliesin III.

Each time the architect had to revamp Taliesin, the house grew bigger. In its third and final form, Taliesin featured 37,000 square feet, and all the buildings on the estate combined totaled no less than 75,000 square feet on 600 acres of land. 

courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

The third reconstruction of Taliesin did, however, create a pretty big dent in Wright’s pockets, and he was severely in debt at the time work on Taliesin III was finished.

In 1927, the Bank of Wisconsin foreclosed on the property, and the architect moved to La Jolla, California, forced to leave his beloved hill-top home behind.

His fans and students, however, devised a plan to have the revered architect reunited with Taliesin. Darwin Martin, a former client of Wright’s, formed a company dubbed Frank Lloyd Wright Inc., to issue stock on the architect’s future earnings. Various other clients and students purchased stock, and ended up successfully bidding on Taliesin for $40,000, giving it back to Wright. 

Thankfully, the innovative design and historic importance of Taliesin were recognized by Wright’s clients and admirers, and the efforts to preserve and keep the estate alive paid off.

In January 1976, Taliesin was named a National Historic Landmark District by the National Park Service. More than three decades later, Taliesin was one of the buildings included in The 20th Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, a UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring a selection of eight buildings designed by the architect across the U.S. 

[embedded content]

Today, Taliesin is a historical and architectural gem, and Frank Lloyd Wright fans can visit the estate on professionals, guided tours. If you’re an architecture fan, a student or design aficionado and you’re ever traveling near Spring Green, Wisconsin, you don’t want to miss out on the chance to visit Taliesin. 

Feature image courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

More architectural wonders

The House that Zaha Hadid Built: The Story of the Only Residence Ever Designed by “The Queen of the Curve”
This Perfectly Preserved Mid-Century Home in Palo Alto Was Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright Student Aaron Green
Ernest Hemingway’s Iconic House in Key West Stands Tall and Mighty After 168 Hurricane Seasons
Exquisite Birge Clark-Designed Mansion on the Market in Palo Alto


Dita Von Teese’s Quirky Los Angeles Home is Every Aspiring Diva’s Dream

Even if you’re not a fan of burlesque, or perhaps don’t even know for sure what that is, you’ll still know about Dita Von Teese. The 47-year-old star is credited with bringing burlesque back into the limelight, which also landed her the moniker of Queen of Burlesque. 

But that’s not all she does. Von Teese (Heather Renée Sweet, by her real name) is also a former model, a costume designer, singer, actress, entrepreneur, bestselling book author, and last but not least, an avid vintage and antiques collector. 

Architectural Digest was lucky enough to take a sneak peek into Dita Von Teese’s ultra-glamorous Los Angeles home recently. The diva keeps her personal life off limits, so the video tour offers a rare glimpse of her private sanctuary. 

[embedded content]

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Von Teese’s home is dramatically different from other Hollywood celebrity homes. The burlesque star moved into her 1927-built Tudor Revival home five years ago, and has spent most of this time finessing it to match her unique taste. 

Firstly, she made sure she had complete privacy and security, and built a fortress-style wall adorned with spiky vegetation to keep unwanted visitors at bay. Then, she decided to turn a boring pool house into a veritable, English-style pub that she’s filled with quirky memorabilia and souvenirs. 

Dita Von Teese house los angeles
Dita Von Teese’s Tudor Revival Home in L.A. Photo by Trevor Tondro for AD
Dita Von Teese house los angeles
Dita Von Teese’s poolside English pub. Photo by Trevor Tondro for AD

When Dita Von Teese first moved into her 3,200-square-foot four-bedroom home, all interior walls were white, which was naturally way too boring for her unique personality. She tells Architectural Digest that she’s ‘a maximalist, not a minimalist,’ having filled every room and nook in the house with one-of-a-kind antique pieces. 

The living room is like a small-scale taxidermy museum, painted in vivid colors and filled to the brink with unique pieces. Some she’s found at flea markets, some were gifted from friends, and some she’s carried with her for years, taking them with her whenever she’s moved house. 

Dita Von Teese house los angeles
Dita Von Teese’s living room. Photo by Trevor Tondro for AD

The blue couch in the living room, which Von Teese admits is very uncomfortable, is a reproduction of a French couch bought at her favorite Dallas store, called Deco-Dence. The Chinese rug is an Etsy find, while the working phonograph was bought at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. 

There’s a lot of taxidermy in Dita Von Teese’s house, but it’s all antique. She tells the folks at ArchDigest that she doesn’t condone hunting or hanging hunting trophies, but that she does enjoy collecting antique taxidermy – some of her most prized possessions are a couple of heart-shaped glass bowls containing rare taxidermy birds, that she keeps above her fireplace. 

The kitchen is equally stunning, painted in dark green and copper throughout. Von Teese says she wanted a ‘sexy, womanly, grown-up kitchen.’ She made the switch to green after having a much-photographed, all-pink kitchen in her previous home. 

Dita Von Teese house los angeles
Dita Von Teese’s kitchen. Photo by Trevor Tondro for AD

The dining room is, again, a stunner, colored in red and blue, in a nod to the bottle design of one of her favorite perfumes, Lou Lou by Cacharel. The dining room table and chairs were another flea market find, to which she added her own touches like custom fabrics inspired by those seen in a French hotel. 

Dita Von Teese house los angeles
Dita Von Teese’s dining room. Photo by Trevor Tondro for AD

Dita Von Teese also has her own version of a man cave, a red library room that also serves as a TV room – though the TV is hidden behind a piece of pin-up art, as to not disturb the vintage vibe of the room. This is where she chills out, perhaps flipping through some vintage men’s magazines and sipping cocktails from martini glasses in her unique Art Deco bar. 

Dita Von Teese house los angeles
Dita Von Teese in her ‘woman cave’. Photo by Trevor Tondro for AD

The bedroom was designed in what Von Teese calls her own version of minimalism, painted all gray and silver. The bed was designed after a Mae West bed with mirrors, while the room was inspired by Jean Harlow’s bedroom in Dinner at Eight. This is where we also catch up with her cat Alistair, who was sleeping peacefully on the bed before ArchDigest reporters woke him up. 

Dita Von Teese house los angeles
Dita Von Teese’s master bedroom. Photo by Trevor Tondro for AD

Von Teese is the proud owner of an authentic 1930s vanity that she keeps in her bedroom, but she also turned a former closet into a hairdressing room. She likes to do her own hair, and this is probably our favorite room in the house, adorned with small antiques and a beautiful, light pink vanity bench with tassels. 

Dita Von Teese house los angeles
Dita Von Teese’s hairdressing room. Photo by Trevor Tondro for AD

Last but certainly not least, Von Teese turned a former children’s room into a giant walk-in closet, where she keeps her shoe, hat, and brooch collections. She’s good friends with iconic shoe designer Christian Louboutin, so she’s got a lot – and we mean a lot – of red-soled shoes. 

Dita Von Teese house los angeles
Dita Von Teese’s shoe closet. Photo by Trevor Tondro for AD

Outside, Von Teese also enjoys a quiet backyard surrounded by lush vegetation, as well as a large swimming pool and plenty of reupholstered, vintage patio furniture. She also designed her own ‘Snow White garden’ featuring tall pine trees and rolling baby tears moss. 

Dita Von Teese house los angeles
Dita Von Teese’s garden. Photo by Trevor Tondro for AD

Dita Von Teese is definitely not done decorating her home. She’s always adding things, for instance, she’s still got a remaining white wall that she’s planning to have covered in feathers. Whether you’re an antique or taxidermy fan or not, you can’t deny that Von Teese’s lovely English Tudor home is a cozy, stylish retreat fit for an elegant and classy diva. 

All images courtesy of Architectural Digest

More unique celebrity homes

Jeffree Star Takes Fans on Tour of Hidden Hills Mansion
The Mysterious Allure of Stephen King’s House, the Beating Heart of Bangor, Maine
Shaquille O’Neal’s Longtime Home — and Shaq-apulco Paradise
“Neverland” No More! The Sycamore Valley Ranch is Much More than Michael Jackson’s Former Home