Buffalo Homes: Frank Lloyd Wright and Beyond

In just over a week I will be heading to the National Preservation Conference in Buffalo, New York—a place that until recently I knew absolutely nothing about (except for its football team). In preparation for what promises to be an exciting four days in Buffalo, I’ve studied up on the place and learned its no accident that the National Trust for Historic Preservation chose Buffalo as the place for its annual conference. Not only is Buffalo the second largest city in New York and just a half hour from Niagara Falls,  it is also is home to some very significant historic houses. These include Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin D. Martin House Complex, Graycliff Estate, the Walter V. Davidson House and the William R. Heath House. The Blue Sky Mausoleum and Fontana Rowing Boat House were also designed by Wright but built after his death. In addition, the 19th and early 20th century homes in Buffalo’s Prospect Hill neighborhood have been recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as nationally significant American architecture. Here’s a peek at some of these famous Buffalo homes.

Darwin D. Martin House Complex

My attitude towards Frank Lloyd Wright is kind of like my attitude towards Tiger Woods: I hate the man for cheating on his wife but can’t help but admire the greatness of his work. One of the best known American architects, Frank Lloyd Wright was a master of interior architecture and designed every detail of a home from interior molding to furniture to panes of glass. Darwin Martin was a significant client of Wright’s, commissioning the five houses that make up the Martin Complex, Graycliff (the family’s summer estate), the Larkin Soap Company headquarters (demolished in 1950) and the Blue Sky Mausoleum (designed by Wright but built after his death). Frank Lloyd Wright was introduced to Darwin Martin through his brother, William Martin, for whom Wright had built a home outside of Chicago (the other Martin House).

Barton House interior at the Martin House Complex in Buffalo's Parkside neighborhood.

Buffalo's Martin House Complex is considered an excellent example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style, which included strong horizontal lines, large overhanging eaves, sheltered, private entrances and cross-shaped plans that allow for many outdoor views and an open floor plan. Prior to Frank Lloyd Wright, many homes had a simple rectangular shape with rooms defined by four solid walls. Frank Lloyd Wright pioneered the concept of the open floor plan that is so prevalent in homes today.

The Martin House Conservatory featuring a cast of the Nike of Samothrace.


Graycliff Estate

Graycliff Estate is located in Derby, NY about fifteen miles outside of Buffalo. Designed as a summer residence for the Martin Family, the estate consists of three buildings sitting on 8.4 acres of land overlooking Lake Erie. The Graycliff architecture is considered an early example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic style, which strives to create unity and harmony between the environment and the home. For this reason, many consider Graycliff to be a precursor to his most famous work, Fallingwater.

Isabelle R. Martin House at Graycliff Estate in Derby, NY

Graycliff has been undergoing a $7.2 million renovation, with the exterior renovations of all three buildings complete. Interior restoration began in the summer of 2011, starting with the Family Sun Room in the main residence, the Isabelle Martin House.  

The original interior decor of the family sun room at the Isabelle Martin House, Graycliff Estate.

Walter V. Davidson House

Two executives of the Larkin Soap Company, Walter Davidson and William Heath, admired the complex that Wright had built for their colleague Darwin Martin that they commissioned Wright to build their own homes in Buffalo. While both are Prairie style homes, like the Martin Complex, the two-story living room with cathedral ceiling stands out as a unique feature of the Davidson House.

Living room with cathedral ceiling at the Walter Davidson House.

Perhaps due to a smaller budget, the tall windows do not have the intricate detailing of those at the Martin House, but their sheer height – at one and half stories tall – makes for a signature architectural element that allows large amounts of natural light into the space. 

William R. Heath House

Designed with a mostly linear floor plan due to the narrow lot on which it was built, the Heath House nevertheless contains all the elements of a classic Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie style home. The front porch, which acts as an extension of the living room, features a large overhanging eave and the house as a whole recalls the horizontally of a Midwest prairie. Decorative glass is used as a screen from the street, creating a sense of family privacy.

The front porch of the Davidson House has large overhanging eaves characteristic of Wright's Prairie style.

The Willliam Heath House is often cited as being a precursor to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, built in Chicago, Illinois four years later on a similarly narrow plot of land.

Prospect Hill Neighborhood 

Located just west of downtown, the lakefront neighborhood of Prospect Hill exhibits architectural styles from the spanning the 1860’s to the 1950’s.  Facing the threat of significant demolition as a result of proposed development plans, in 2008 the neighborhood was designated one of Seven to Save areas by the Preservation League of New York State and one of the Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The west side neighborhood of Prospect Hill features historic homes from the 1860's through 1950's.

While any visitor to Buffalo can take a stroll through this neighborhood to view the exterior architecture, to catch a glimpse of the home interiors you can try to catch Preservation Buffalo's tour Inside the Homes of Prospect Hill.

The interior of a mid-century modern home in the Prospect Hill neighborhood.

Stay tuned to the Roomations blog for updates on my trip to Buffalo, New York for the National Preservation Conference!

This post was written by Katie.

Related Links:
Martin House Complex Tours


  1. Anonymous7:07 PM

    wonderful overview, may actually persuade me to go to Buffalo...in the summer

  2. Maurice12:13 AM

    These homes are the reason why I want to live in Buffalo. Just looking at these photos makes me admire the craftsmanship exerted by the architects and interior decorators. I wonder if there's still a house for sale here.

  3. Michelle Tyrone7:51 PM

    I just fell in love with the Darwin D. Martin House Complex. The artistry of the architect and designer is simply jaw dropping.

    u of m housing

  4. Lizeth1:12 AM

    My bet would be the William R. Heath House. It's sophisticated and very easy on the eyes. I hope I could spot one of these in Ryan Homes.

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