MR. WRIGHT'S "AFFORDABLE" HOUSE  |  Storyline 1957 "Grand Opening"  |  Original 1957 "Grand Opening" Feature Article
Original Van Tamelen House
Original Van Tamelen House, 1956
Original Van Tamelen House Bedroom Wing
Original Van Tamelen House Bedroom Wing, 1956

Throughout his career, Frank Lloyd Wright, like many Modern architects, had a great interest in designing an affordable house that could be "mass produced." His opportunity came when he learned that the Madison builder who had built Wright's Unitarian Meeting House (1947) was trying to sell modest pre-fabricated homes.

The Van Tamelen House was Frank Lloyd Wright's response to Marshall Erdman's attempt to simplify housing construction; in Wright's opinion, a better design and more affordable. Serving as the model for their modular homes, this new ranch-style design resulted in a house that was 85 feet long and 2,000 square feet. A pitched-roof vaulted ceiling bedroom wing and living/dining area is attached to a flat-roofed kitchen/breakfast room. The living/dining area is further defined by a 5'x5' open fireplace and French doors leading to a terrace that surrounds that end of the house. Each house has a masonry core, following the Usonian concept of anchoring the structure to the earth, and an open floor plan that leads to the building's outdoors. So great was the interest in the house at the time it was built that Erdman "had to erect a stout fence to hold back the persons who wanted to enter." (Wisconsin State Journal, Sunday, August 18, 1957.)

The basic package that Erdman offered with this Wright design included all the major structural components, interior and exterior walls, floors, windows and doors, as well as cabinets and woodwork. The buyer had to provide the following: the lot, the foundation, the plumbing fixtures, heating units, electrical wiring, drywall, and paint. And the buyer also had to submit a topographic map and photos of the lot to Mr. Wright who determine where the house should sit.

When completed, the Van Tamelen house included all the custom options available, resulting in a rather high final cost of $55,000 (the base price was $16,400). Subsequent changes to the Van Tamelen house by Taliesin Architects include the finished lower-level with window wall and patio, the large stationary window and French doors in the breakfast room, and the free-standing garage. In 2002, Taliesin Architects redesigned and expanded the rear terrace by connecting the living and kitchen areas and stepping the terrace down to the back yard.

Ralph Hatfield and his wife Ione purchased the house in 1974. A former employee of Marshall Erdman and the construction foreman when the house was built, Mr. Hatfield was an avid fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. He handcrafted and added several features including the bird baths, various lighting fixtures and stained glass windows, all based on Frank Lloyd Wright's designs. Roger H. Ganser and P. Katherine Naherny bought the property in 2002 and have faithfully maintained and enhanced the building and grounds.

Original Van Tamelen House Dining Room and Front Entryway
Original Van Tamelen House Dining Room and Front Entry, 1956
Original Van Tamelen House Kitchen
Original Van Tamelen House Kitchen, 1956

Wright House First Opening to the Public
Reprint of Wisconsin State Journal Article, August 18, 1957

Photos by William Wollin (from "Frank Lloyd Wright and Madison: Eight Decades of Artistic and Social Interaction")