The site of the Farnsworth House is a 9 acre plot near the Fox River in Plano, Illinois. It was purchased by Doctor Edith Farnsworth from Colonel Robert McCormick.
Dr. Farnsworth was a physician on the staff of Passavant Hospital. She wanted to build a getaway cottage in Plano to unwind from the stresses of work. Architect was Mies van der Rohe. This was the first American house built by the architect.
From the beginning, there were many issues with the project. The building was sited on a flood plain. It was designed in 1945. It was not built until 1951. Cost was $74,000. This was 10 times the original cost.
The decision was made was to elevate the house above the flood plain. The building was elevated 5 feet 3 inches above the ground. All utility functions were gathered in a four foot diameter cylindrical tube that descended to the ground below the kitchen. Electrical power lines were buried. The house was 1,500 square feet.
The Pittsburgh Glass Company provided the external glass. It was quarter inch thick glass. The largest panes were north and south facing. They were 9 feet tall and 11 feet wide. They were mounted between white steel mullions.
Column and steel girders were provided by Chicago Wendnagel Steel Company. The steel columns were painted white. There was some second guessing about the decision not to use double paned insulated glass.
Flooring was travertine marble. There was an open floor plan. There were 2 bathrooms. The underlying floor was concrete slabs. The house measurements were 77 X 28 X 9.5 feet.
There was a long running dispute between Mies and Dr. Farnsworth on many issues concerning the house including leaking roof, temperature issues in the summer and fall and construction costs. This eventually resulted in a lawsuit between the two parties.
In the 1971 Doctor Farnsworth sold the house and 60 acres of property to Peter Palumbo, a British developer,art collector and architecture connoisseur. The exact selling price is unknown but it is thought to have ranged between $250,000 to $120,000.
After selling the house to Peter Palumbo, Edith Farnsworth left her medical practice at Passavant Hospital under strange circumstances. She moved to Italy where she became involved with Italian poetry. She died at age 76.
Palumbo owned the glass house for 30 years. He refurbished it extensively. He rewired it. He installed new drapes. He changed the heating system to electric. He replaced the roof. He furnished it with Mies designed furniture.
He hired a landscape architect to design an orchid and birch grove. He also designed a sculpture park.
In 2000, Palumbo decided to sell the house. An initial offer from the state of Illinois fell through. In 2003, Palumbo decided to put the house up for auction. A group of prominent Chicagoans led by John Bryan representing the National Trust for Historic Preservation had the winning bid of $6.7 million dollars.
The Trust has undertaken a 10 million dollar renovation. One project was to install hydraulic jacks to raise the house during flooding.
Public tours have been available to the public since 2004.
Due to severe rains in the end of May, 2020. The house was threatened with flooding.
It has just recently been announced that the Farnsworth House has been reopened for tours. It had been closed because of the Corona virus pandemic.