A professor and an architect with much in common paved the path for one of the architect’s most comprehensive and unique residential commissions. The professor was Paul Hanna at Stanford; the architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Though the Hanna House or Honeycomb House isn’t considered by scholars to be one of his definitive works like the cantilevered country cottage in Pennsylvania or the rotund art museum in New York, it is still a masterpiece of design and is the first and best example of Wright’s hexagonal design, which came about during a slow time in his career in 1936.
The name Honeycomb House comes from the use of hexagons for the basic grid and design of the house. You see the six-sided shapes as soon as you arrive at the property. They are used in the flooring, the walls, the furniture, and more. Although today you see the hexagon pattern on the floor inside the house, my guide, the Director of Heritage Services and Archaeologist for Stanford University, noted that Wright intended it to be covered with a custom designed carpet, which was later replaced with shag when that came in vogue.
Keeping in sync with his organic architecture philosophy, Wright designed the home around the mature oak trees already on the property, one of them is now 80 inches in diameter, and he built with the lay of the land being on the side of a hill.
The outside has beautiful Japanese gardens (Asia is one area of interest shared by both professor and architect), victory garden remnants such as fruit trees, built-in water features (all dry due to the drought in CA), a tea house, restored Japanese lanterns, and plenty of space for outdoor entertaining including built-in chess tables. One highlight for Wright fans is a large carved-stone Japanese basket rescued from the Imperial Hotel when it was demolished in 1968.
As I mentioned, this project was one of Wright’s most comprehensive residential designs. That’s because the Hannas remained friends with him the rest of his life, and when it came time to renovate, they went back to him for the project. This happened when the kids had all moved out. The Hanna’s ended up taking over all of their children’s spaces and making a larger master suite, an office and library, and the old playroom was turned into a dining room with a table for more than 20 people. A guest house with hobby shop on top was also added.
You enter the home from the carport into a vaulted hexagon foyer with passages to the kitchen, study and living room. The entrance seems a bit big for Wright with a high ceiling, but he was showing off the hexagon and playing with light and shadow when you first enter. He still compresses you at the entrance to the other spaces to manipulate you through the space. The living area is one large open space with a beautiful hexagonal fireplace in the middle, which the home is built around.
Behind the fireplace and also in the heart of the home is the kitchen, a long narrow space with high ceiling, sky lights and heat exhaust vents. All of the spaces have beautiful furniture. Most of it was customer designed for the house, but at this point in Wright’s career he was busy again and didn’t get around to designing new pieces when they needed them. So, they chose pieces with his approval, but only because they made the mistake of using some fantastic Alvar Aalto stools that he didn’t approve of first. They learned the lesson and asked his advice on all future purchases.
An innovation for its time is the integrated sound system throughout the house with speakers in nearly every room starting in the foyer. The Hannas loved music (another commonality between Wright and the professors) and had an organ, radio and hi-fi system wired to the speakers.
The house suffered some major damage in the 1989 earthquake. We were told the house basically rotated around the chimney in the middle of the house. Fortunately, the house wasn’t destroyed and was restored and received a seismic upgrade.
Stanford gives tours of the house four days a month. Otherwise, it is on private property with an active resident on site. They offer one-hour tours, and you need reservations. Go to their website for information and to make your reservation; they regularly fill up months in advance. Oh, July-September of this year the house will be closed for preservation work.
Whether you’re a fan of Wright or great architecture, the Hanna House is a must see. It is beautiful, and its story fascinating.