The Dana House Mural and the Allen House Interior Items
A Beginning and End Collaboration Between Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect and George M. Niedecken, Interior Architect
In 1904, Frank Lloyd Wright and George M. Niedecken began a collaboration with the Dana-Thomas House dining room mural. That project established a professional working relationship between the two men that continued through 12 of Wright’s future projects.
Initially during 1904, under Wright’s direct supervision and employment at the Oak Park studio, it is apparent that a mutual trust was established between Wright and Niedecken.
Under the direction of Frank Lloyd Wright, Niedecken’s involvement in projects such as the Dana, Coonley and May House murals, demonstrates Niedecken’s ability to interpret and implement a design concept thta was harmonious to the whole of Frank Lloyd Wirhgt’s interior enviroments.
In 1907, Niedecken as an interior architect, formed a business venture in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his brother-in-law, John Walbridge to design and manufacture or select interior furnishings. Frank Lloyd Wright again drew upon his early collaboration with Niedecken. Niedecken was asked to provide furnishings based on Wright’s presentation drawings or design philosophy for the following houses: F.F. Tomek House, 1907; Avery Coonley House, 1908; Meyer May House, 1909; D.H. Amberg House and E.P. Irving House, 1910; Adolph Mueller House and Robert Mueller House, 1911; F.C. Book House, 1916; and the Henry J. Allen House, 1917.
The Henry J. Allen House, in Wichita, Kansas was the last of these collaborations. The house was commissioned by Henry J. and Elsie Allen in 1915. The Allens were referred to Wright by their close friend, Journalist William Allen White of Emporia, Kansas. White had retained Wright to remodel his Emporia House.
The Allens received the initial house design by late 1915. In March of 1916, ELsie Allen travelled to Chicago to propose plan changes in the second floor bedrooms and kitchen area. Wright submitted the furniture designs for the Allens to review in July. 1916.
To date, evidence has been located that Wright submitted at least 15 numbered presentation drawings of interior items for the Allens to review. Seven sheets of Wright’s presentation drawings remained in the Niedecken-Wallbridge office files. The Wright drawings along with the Niedecken Wallbridge drawings were purchased by the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in 1983.
Existing numbered drawings for the Allen House include drawings of the dining room light standard and table and chairs; the piano bench and taboret; and Mrs Allen’s daycouch, dressing table, and chair; and a bed and a side stand.
Mrs Allen’s Desk
Unfortunately, until the other Frank Lloyd Wright presentation drawings surface, one can only speculate what these drawings indicated and who actually initiated the designs for many of the items drawn by the office of Niedecken-Wallbridge. Knowing the revisions requested by the client would be of interest also, as a comparison of the two existing drawings for Elsie Allen’s boudoir desk and the living room light standard, (which was originally designed for the dining room) clearly show refinements to the initial Frank Lloyd Wright designs presumably at the request of the client.
In addition to the seven numbered sheets, several unnumbered sheets of designs by Wright were found in the Niedecken-Wallbridge office files. Included were the designs for the Allen’s reception hall bench and bookcase; related wall and window sections at the reception hall and second floor study; and three draperty designs.
The building permit for the Allen House was recorded on April of 1917. Furniture designs were finalized for manufacturing by Niedecken’s office in Milwaukee during 1917 and 1918. The house was completed and occupied by late 1918.
Allen served as Governor of Kansas from January 1919 to January 1923. After the Allens returned to the house in January 1923, they retained George Niedecken to acquire additional accessories from Japan and to design several pieces of Jacobean style furniture. Only one piece, a sofa, was known to have been built.
Mrs. Allen invited Wright to Wichita in 1935 to lecture on and sell Japanese prints. She purchased several Japanese prints at that time.
Frank Lloyd Wright considered the Allen House to be “among my best”. The house typifies Wright’s Prairie style on an initial inspection, but actually encloses a garden court and incorporates details assimilated from Japan.