Frank Lloyd Wright (American, 1867-1959) with George M. Niedecken (American, 1878-1945)

Henry J. Allen House Dining Set, 1917
Walnut, walnut veneer, and cloth upholstery
Table: 29 1/2 x 42 x 144 1/2 in. (fully extended)
12 chairs: 40 x 18 x 18 in. each
Gift of Arthur W. Kinkade

From the early 1890s until about 1918, Frank Lloyd Wright created a series of houses that were dramatically simple and spare compared to their still-popular Victorian-era counterparts. Likening their low horizontal lines to the dominant landscape of his native Midwest, he called them his "prairie style" homes. Inside, he erased traditional room divisions to create free-flowing interior spaces and designed furniture to work harmoniously, both in form and function, within them. "The most satisfactory apartments," Wright claimed, "are those in which most of the furniture has been built in as a part of the original scheme . . . as it is the only means of arriving at the very best results." (1) Ultimately, he sought to make exterior and interior merge so that all parts of the home would interweave in a seamless whole.

Wright and his frequent collaborator George M. Niedecken created the present dining set for the home the architect had produced in 1915 for the Wichita newspaper publisher (and later Kansas governor) Henry J. Allen and his wife, Elsie. A Milwaukee-based designer, Niedecken partnered with Wright on eleven houses over 15 years. Like Wright, he collected Asian art and sought artistic inspiration in nature; his straightforward furnishings reflected the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement as well as Wright’s desire to integrate all aspects of a home.

The Allen House furniture comprises pieces originated by Wright, originated by Wright and modified by Niedecken, and originated by Niedecken. He modified Wright's dining-table design by lowering the chair backs, adjusting their rear stretchers, and altering the table’s extension system. (2) With five leaves, the table expands to fill the dining room and accommodate up to a dozen people, who would sit below twelve wood-framed art-glass lighting panels. The table and high-backed chairs further delineate the space, creating a hallmark Wright effect--that of an intimate room within a room.

Wichita State University once owned the Allen House; it is now a historic-house museum run by the Allen-Lambe House Foundation. In addition to the dining set, the Ulrich Museum has a dressing table, a cabinet tabouret, and two twin beds on loan to the foundation. The Allen House and the Corbin Education Center on the Wichita State campus are the only two Wright-designed buildings in Kansas.

--Emily Stamey, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Ulrich Museum of Art

1. Frank Lloyd Wright, "The Architect and the Machine," lecture, University Guild, Evanston, Illinois, 1894, in Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, ed., Frank Lloyd Wright: Collected Writings, 5 vols. (New York: Rizzoli in association with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, 1992), 1: 22.
2. The original dining-set drawings, with Niedecken and Wright's notes, are reproduced in Cheryl Robertson, The Domestic Scene, 1897–1927: George M. Niedecken, Interior Architect, 2nd ed. (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Art Museum, 2008), 89–90.

Frank Lloyd Wright (American, 1867-1959) with George M. Niedecken (American, 1878-1945), 'Henry J. Allen House Dining Set,' 1917. Walnut, walnut veneer, and cloth upholstery. Table: 29 1/2 by 42 by 144 1/2 inches (fully extended); 12 chairs: 40 by 18 by 18 inches each. Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas. Gift of Arthur W. KinkadeFrank Lloyd Wright, Henry J. Allen House, 1915. Courtesy Allen-Lambe House Foundation, Wichita. Photograph by Larry Schwarm