Wright’s signature art glass windows were smaller and positioned above the 4.5 ft bookshelves so Martin won’t be distracted by street traffic when he was seated. (He was 5 ft 4 in). Wright also installed a stained glass skylight to infuse some light in the room.

The Martin House bursar's office
Image: Courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House

The bursar’s office had thick walls, and cocooned Martin from the din of horse-and-buggy and car traffic on his street. Wright built him a three-sided desk, akin to an open cubicle. His chair faced away from the door, which was, as Roberts describes it, “like putting him in the zone.”

The Martin House home office mirrored details in Wright’s design of the Larkin Company Administration Building—a major commission for the 35-year old architect. He installed built-in drawers for a type of client filing system Martin invented. Inspired by the Dewey indexing system in the Buffalo Public Library, Martin pioneered a widely-copied system using index cards in lieu of big heavy ledgers.

“It changed the way businesses in American kept records,” says Roberts. “People say that he [Martin] was the Bill Gates of his time, in the sense that he figured out a new way to store information for businesses.”

“The Larkin Company’s most valuable asset was neither soap nor other merchandise manufactured and sold, but its inventory of names and addresses annotated with indications of trustworthiness—what we would today its customer database,” wrote Columbia University’s Zeynep Çelik Alexander in a 2018 article published in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. “Martin’s groundbreaking invention, then, had nothing to do with innovations in manufacturing or sales but rather with the seemingly humdrum matter of bookkeeping.”

Architecture as portraiture

How might Wright deal with today’s home office woes, such as the need to be on constant Zoom meetings, interruptions from social media and domestic chores, and the spaghetti tangle of cables?

Laurent house bedroom
Laurent house bedroom
Image: Courtesy of Jack Quinan

“Wright was working in a very different era, of course, with technologies that amounted to a telephone, a mechanical typewriter, some bookshelves, and file cabinets,” Quinan tells Quartz. “I can’t begin to say how Wright would deal with today’s complex home office requirements other than to fall back on his consistently organic approach to such things.”

Organic, as Wright used it, can be roughly boiled down to “form and function are one,” a notion that design solutions should grapple with specific needs. In the book, Architecture as Portraiture, Quinan elaborates on how Wright believed in designing homes as mirrors of its owners, akin to the work of portrait painters like John Singer Sargent.

Quinan explains that though Wright had a reputation for always getting his way, he was first thinking of the client’s needs: “For Kenneth Laurent, who was stricken with paralysis that made him wheelchair-bound, Wright design a house of one floor with a master bedroom with twin beds placed end-to-end along one wall. [There was a] writing desk across the room with a cantilevered writing surface that allowed Mr. Laurent to fit comfortably at work in his wheelchair.”

Wright’s attentiveness to the client’s physical and psychological state is crucial to designing their home offices. Before committing to new furniture or extensive renovations, start by observing “the patterns and rhythms” of your work life and go from there.

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