Oak Park's William E. Martin House on East Avenue is not only a stunning example of a well-maintained Prairie-style design, but it also represents the power of family connections in spreading Frank Lloyd Wright's designs. Built in 1903 for William Martin, the home so impressed William's brother, Darwin, that it led to the construction of several Wright buildings in Buffalo, New York.
William E. Martin was born in New York state in 1863 and moved to Chicago in 1882. He formed Martin & Barton, a stove polish manufacturer with his brother-in-law, George F. Barton. In 1895, his brother Darwin Martin bought out Barton, moving him to the Larkin Company in Buffalo, N.Y. The two Martin brothers established Martin & Martin and manufactured polish for stoves and shoes under the name E-Z Polish. William first met Wright in 1902 and commissioned him to build a home for his family, which included three children.
Impressed by the work Wright was doing for his brother, Darwin brought Wright to Buffalo to design two houses there for his family and the Barton family, and today the Darwin D. Martin House complex is known as one of the finer examples of Wright's Prairie style. Due to Darwin's patronage, Wright also designed his first major commercial project, the Larkin Administration Building, followed by the construction of the E-Z Stove Polish Company's factory.
While Darwin's Buffalo house was rumored to cost a staggering (for that time) $300,000, William's more modest Oak Park home was rumored to cost between $5,000 and $7,000 to build. In spite of its more modest beginnings, the spacious home built for a family with three children remains a well-preserved testament to Wright's Prairie style.
A Wright signature Roman brick fireplace with an inglenook graces the living room, and the dining room boasts four built-in china cabinets with art-glass doors. Throughout, woodwork is used both as a decorative accent and in utilitarian seating and built-in storage.
With 59 original art-glass windows throughout the home, the outdoor vistas are an important part of each room. As in much of Wright's work, the interior of the home was meant to bring the outdoors inside, and the expansive yard features a water garden and plantings meant to recall Wright's era.
A large covered outdoor porch, a balcony off the dining room and two porches off the master suite allow residents to fully experience nature from within the boundaries of the home.