Herbert Jacobs First Wright Home In Wisconsin

Original Owner: Herbert Jacobs

Address: 441 Toepfer St, Madison

Year Built: 1936

This modest home, constructed for journalist Herb Jacobs in 1936, is generally regarded as Wright’s first Usonian house Wright’s home style designed to be affordable for middle class families, while still retaining striking design characteristics. Jacobs only had a limited amount to spend on the home and challenged Wright to build an artistic home for him at this budgeted amount. Wright, who always spoke of his desire or a democratic architecture, available to even those with modest means, accepted the challenge, and agreed that he would built Jacobs a house for $5,500 the only time in his career he agreed to a fixed price contract.

The house is designed to have a private public facade, with only small clerestory windows on the street side. But on the private side, the walls are almost entirely large windows and glass doors, opening the house to the terrace and garden area. The design, as in most of Wright’s Usonian houses, is based on a grid, here a 2 by 4 foot rectangular grid. All masonry elements are arranged near the front door, this allows Wright to have the fireplace, kitchen and bathroom areas all contained within the central masonry core, permitting just short runs of pipe.

The wood walls are screwed together in a three-layer sandwich, without conventional stud framing, with pine boards between identical interior and exterior pine and redwood horizontal board and batten siding. Other cost saving features include the flat roof, no attic, no foundation, a carport (instead of garage), and gravity heating (eliminated the need for costly ductwork). Legend has it that Wright’s apprentices culled bricks that they deemed “substandard” from the Johnson Wax administration building site, under construction at the same time as this house, and used them here, helping to bring the house in under it’s $5,500 budget. The Jacobs very much enjoyed this house, but soon outgrew it.

In 1944, Wright designed a second house for them in Middleton, just west of Madison.

Today, despite neglect by previous owners, the house has been lovingly restored to its original beauty by its current owner.

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