Frank Lloyd Wright called the grand complex he designed for Darwin D. Martin in Buffalo (1903–05) his “opus,” as he wrote in 1954 to a prospective buyer of the property. And it was a major opus—even if just one among many. Now, in time for the celebration of Wright’s 150th birthday in June, a 20-year, five-phase restoration and reconstruction process is wrapping up on the residential complex, with six structures by the architect. Its 1.5 acres include the main house for Martin and his family; a smaller one for Martin’s sister Delta and her husband, George Barton; a pergola, conservatory, and carriage house, as well as a gardener’s cottage that was added in 1909. Today it is hard to tell that it endured years of abandonment and neglect, not to mention actual demolition of three of its structures.
Martin and Barton both worked for the Larkin Company, a mail-order soap business. As a top executive, Martin helped bring Wright in to design the groundbreaking office building in downtown Buffalo (RECORD, March 1908; April 1908), which unfortunately was demolished in 1950. As the client for his own and his brother-in-law’s houses, Martin proved to be surprisingly generous in letting his headstrong designer create a remarkable gesamtkunstwerk where architecture, interior fittings, furnishings, objects, and landscape came together in a splendidly integrated whole. (Nevertheless, Martin did chide Wright for not being punctual or paying enough attention to budget, specifications, and drawings.)