1948 – Kenneth Laurent (1919-2012), a disabled World War II veteran, and his wife, Phyllis (1918-2012), commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959).
1949 – Wright designed the Laurent House, the only building that he created specifically for a client with a physical disability. Its design was decades ahead of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility guidelines.
1951 – 1952 – Using intersecting arcs, the Usonian hemicycle home (abt. 1,400 square feet) was constructed with much of the labor and materials sourced locally. A terraced patio with fish pond, carport, and indoor/outdoor connectivity to the natural landscape. Wright apprentice, John deKoven Hill, was the Field Representative, during construction.
Original color scheme - orange, green, and Cherokee red. All furniture, except 2 chairs and the piano and its bench, were designed by Wright or his apprentices.
1950s – Wright referred to the Laurent House, as his "little gem", and selected it for his book that showcased his 35 most significant buildings of his 70 plus year career. This special designation garnered the ceramic Red Tile that adorns the House’s front entry.
1950s – The Laurents adopt a son and a daughter, prompting an addition to the House.
1958 – Wright was commissioned and prepared working sketches for an addition (abt. 1,100 square feet), which the Laurents did not accept.
1959 – Wright died, prior to the completion of the addition’s final plans and construction drawings.
1959 - 1960 – Under the direction of John Howe, a Wright apprentice, the addition’s revisions and construction were completed, using the son of the original local contractor.
1952 – 2012 – Ken and Phyllis Laurent lived in the House.
1974 – Entrance court low masonry wall was added, which Taliesin’s William Wesley Peters designed.
2012 – The Laurent House Foundation, Inc, an independent, not-for-profit, private foundation created by local residents, purchased the home, the Wright-designed architectural drawings and furnishings, and the Laurent’s personal effects.
2012 – Laurent House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
2012 to 2015 - The Foundation undertook extensive restoration work of the House
Since opening to the public in June, 2014, thousands of visitors from 5 Continents, over 40 States, and over 200 Illinois communities have toured.
In 1937, after graduating from Belvidere High School, Ken moved to Rockford, to work, as a statistician, at National Lock Co. where he worked for 41 years.
Ken and Phyllis married at Trinity Lutheran Church in Rockford in June, 1941.
From 1942 to 1946, Ken served in the Quartermaster Corp. in the Navy and was stationed in California where Phyllis was able to join him. In March, 1946, Ken and Phyllis returned to Rockford.
In 1946, Ken was diagnosed with a spinal cord tumor and underwent surgery that left him a paraplegic.
Over the next few years, he lived in the Vaughan (Hines) Veteran’s Administration facility near Chicago, where he received rehab and training to live with his disability. Phyllis moved in with her parents in Rockford.
1948: Two events occurred that brought the Laurents and Frank Lloyd Wright together:
- Laurents received a $10,000 Federal Specially Adapted Housing grant for disabled veterans.
- Phyllis saw an article in House Beautiful magazine about the Wright-designed Pope (-Leighey) house in Virginia and thought that Wright’s open plan style would suit the needs of her husband.
In 1948, Ken wrote a letter asking Wright who was then 81 to design a house for a wheelchair-bound person on a $20,000 budget. Wright responded: “We are interested but don’t guarantee costs. Who knows what they are today.”
Wright did not approve of the Laurent’s chosen lot in Rockford and tasked them to find rural lot. In January, 1949, they selected and Wright approved the 1.3 acre lot, situated on a two lane country road with open spaces and along Spring Creek.
As months passed with no design plans, Ken wrote to Wright that they needed their house plans immediately. The story goes that Wright instructed his apprentices to lay out drawing paper, before apprentices’ choir practice. Two hours later, Wright completed the plan and elevation.
Though the original budget was $20,000, the 1949 design came in at $25,000. To reduce costs, the more expensive limestone and woods were replaced with Chicago common brick and Tidewater Red Cypress. With construction completion delayed to 1952, the final cost was over $31,000 plus Wright’s fees. As the Laurents had modest means, they paid Wright his fees over two years and took out a bank loan for the additional construction costs.