Kenneth and Phyllis Laurent first met when they both worked at the National Lock Company in Rockford, Ill. Soon after marrying, World War II began and Kenneth enlisted in the U.S. Navy. During his tour of duty, however, Kenneth suffered problems relating to his spinal cord and requiring surgery. That surgery left him paralyzed from the waist down. Kenneth spent the next several years hospitalized in the Hines VA hospital outside of Chicago.
As they anticipated Kenneth’s discharge from the hospital, the Laurents began exploring housing options that would accommodate his new and different needs. In 1948, Phyllis discovered an article in House Beautiful magazine titled “Love Affair of a Man with His House.” The article was written by Loren Pope and described his home designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Laurents soon realized that Wright’s thoughtful designs and open floor plans were exactly what they were looking for in their new home.
In August of 1948, Kenneth wrote the world famous architect requesting that Wright design a house for himself and Phyllis. Along with a proposed budget and a description of the lot he wished the house built on, Kenneth also included the following explanation of his needs:
“To give you an idea of my situation, I must first tell you that I am a paraplegic. In other words, due to a spinal cord injury, I am paralyzed from the waist down and by virtue of my condition, I am confined to a wheelchair. This explains my need for a home as practical and sensible as your style of architecture denotes.”
After many hitches and starts, punctuated by letters of impatience from the Laurents and pleas for patience from Wright, the plan was finally committed to paper nearly a year after the initial request was sent. One night in July 1949, after the apprentices left the drawing room to attend a performance at the Taliesin theater, Wright went to work. When the apprentices returned a scant two hours later, they found the entire floor plan and perspective drawing of the house complete. Wright’s genius had allowed him to completely build the house in his mind during the previous year.
After approval by the Laurents, formal drawings were completed and a contract for the services of Frank Lloyd Wright was signed in July of 1949. The house was completed nearly three years later in May of 1952. The end results allowed Kenneth to realize his full potential as a human being by giving him unrestricted access to everyday living. Wright gave him the level playing field we all take for granted.
Wright developed an uncharacteristic friendship with the Laurents and maintained close contact with them in the years after the house was built. He would visit them personally at the house and invited them to “drop in anytime” at Taliesin, Wright’s Wisconsin home. The Laurents participated in his birthday celebration there every year until Wright’s death in 1959.
The Laurents and the house Wright built for them held a special place in Wright’s heart. Wright personally selected the Laurent House to be included in a book showcasing 35 of his most significant buildings. Wright also told many of his clients, on their journey from Wisconsin to Chicago, to stop over in Rockford and see “my little gem.”