How much does an original by Wright—arguably the most illustrious American designer and builder ever—command on average? And among the 20th century’s greatest architects, whose works carry the highest premium?
From Frank Gehry to Julia Morgan, we tracked down single-family homes that were designed, built, or heavily retouched by eight of most hallowed, studied, and obsessed-over architects—the standard-bearers from the past century. (What about Joseph Eichler, you ask? Well, the Mid-Century Modern maestro was actually a developer, not an architect.) We scoured our own database and nonprofit websites such as savewright.org and ncmodernist.org; we combed through press coverage of homes that are for sale or have sold since 2010. To avoid pitting custom luxury manses against middle-class family homes, we compared the architects’ work with similar-size, regular homes in the same ZIP code that sold during the same period of time.
Surprisingly, Wright’s work is not the most expensive. In fact, it’s very far from it! Intrigued?
Let’s take a detailed look, starting with the most modestly priced modern master and moving up from there:
Louis Kahn (1901–1974)
Margaret Esherick House, Philadelphia, PA
Median price: $270,000
Highest price: Esherick House (sold for $920,000)
Louis Kahn’s highly distinctive style—combining modernism with the weight and dignity of ancient monuments—is best shown in the Salk Institute and Kimbell Art Museum. Throughout his career, the Philadelphia-based architect designed only nine private residential projects.
Among his recently sold works, even the most expensive one—the Esherick House—sold for less than $1 million in 2014. And topping the affordability ranking is the Greenbelt Knoll project, Philadelphia’s first integrated suburban development—consisting of a grouping of 18 homes. While not one of Kahn’s official projects, he was involved in the overall plan. Six of them were sold recently, for a median price of $200,000.
Currently on the market: The Weiss House
Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959)
Archive Photos/Getty Images
Median price: $905,000
Highest price: Storer House, Los Angeles (sold for $6.8 million)
Residences designed by Frank Lloyd Wright—the legend who has a starring role in virtually every architectural history textbook—actually fall on the more affordable end of the spectrum, thanks to his long and remarkably prolific career. There are more than 400 Wright originals still standing today, mostly private homes.
With unique design aesthetics renowned for being in full harmony with their environment, Wright’s homes appeal to connoisseurs and regular buyers alike. More than 40 of them have been sold since 2010, according to savewright.org. They range from a $160,000 Usonian gem in Wausau, WI, to a $6.8 million sprawling estate in Los Angeles. As the data tell us, buyers pay 52% more for a Wright.
To own a Wright design is to own a piece of history. To save the famous Bachman-Wilson House from being flooded, its new owner, Crystal Bridges Museum, had it moved from New Jersey to Arkansas and meticulously reconstructed, piece by piece.
But the weight of responsibility may also turn off some buyers, as in the case of this 1,270-square-foot home in Shorewood, WI. Yep, it’s a certified Wright. It also has only one bathroom. First listed at $349,900 in October, the home went through several rounds of price reductions and is now $299,000, according to its listing.
“Buyers have to adjust their lifestyles to these homes,” says Mike Lilek, curator of American System–Built Homes, a conservancy organization. “They are aware that they are buying a work of art; they can’t do excessive remodeling or expanding, because it will distract its historical value. That narrows the pool of potential buyers.”
That’s also been the case with the sprawling Michigan ranch we mentioned at the beginning of this story.
“A unique home in a unique setting,” as listing agent Fred Taber puts it, the home has been sitting cold for months.
Currently on the market: Arnold Jackson House, Eppstein House, Roloson Row Houses
Marcel Breuer (1902–1981)
Median price: $1.27 million
Highest price: Breuer House II, New Canaan, CT (for sale at $5.85 million)
Marcel Breuer was 22 when he rose to fame creating the famous Wassily Chair, considered a masterpiece of postmodern furniture design; 33 when he moved from Europe to start teaching at Harvard University; and 64 when he designed the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Along the way he became one of the post popular and influential 20th-century architects. Breuer’s much-imitated design vocabulary of long rectangular structures and cantilevered projections are the recurring motifs in his home and interior designs.
With Breuer’s signature long horizontal lines, the Stillman House (featured above) has a main building with four bedrooms and a separate glass-walled studio with kitchen, sunken living room, floating staircases, and pool. The piece of modern art that sits on over 2 acres of secluded hilltop grounds recently sold for $2.3 million.
Currently on the market: Breuer House II, Lauck House
Frank Gehry (1929–)
St. Ives residence, Los Angeles, CA
St. Ives residence
Median price: $1.9 million
Highest price: Tin house, Malibu, CA (sold for $15 million)
A leading exponent of the postmodernist style, Frank Gehry said in a1980 edition of Contemporary Architects that he treated each commission as “a sculptural object, a spatial container, a space with light and air.” Gehry, who lives in Los Angeles, shot to international fame relatively late in his career, after designing the undulating, silvery Guggenheim Bilbao museum, which opened in 1997. Gehry’s homes come at a high price because of their rarity, says George Smart, chairman of the nonprofit Triangle Modernist Archive. Smart says Gehry designed only about 30 to 35 residential homes, mostly in the modernist mecca of Los Angeles.
Last year, “Grey’s Anatomy” star Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey sold his corrugated tin house in Malibu for $15 million, which was $500,000 more than the asking price. Although most Gehry residences come with a million-plus price tag, the architect’s cheapest went for a modest $200,000—with a catch. The home was designed for Brad Pitt‘s Make It Right foundation in a New Orleans neighborhood devastated by the floods that followed Hurricane Katrina.
Currently on the market: St. Ives residence, Schnabel House
Julia Morgan (1872–1957)
Redwood Grove Estate, Garberville, CA
Median price: $2.06 million
Highest price: Bow Bay house, Rubicon Bay, Lake Tahoe (sold for $14 million)
The first woman to receive the American Institute of Architects gold medal, Julia Morgan is best known for designing the Mediterranean Revival–style Hearst Castle in California. Influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, Morgan’s style was characterized by exposed redwood ceiling and support beams, and horizontal lines that blended with the landscape.
Out of the 30-plus properties we tracked, the most interesting was a quaint brick carriage house in San Francisco that once served as a garage. Though the home itself is only 875 square feet, the Morgan stamp and its central location facilitated a $3.7 million deal last year.
Currently on the market: 853 Stateline Ave
Richard Neutra (1892–1970)
Goldman residence, Encino, CA
Median price: $2.1 million
Highest price: Singleton House, Los Angeles (sold for $16.5 million)
Three years after Richard Neutra finished his iconic Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs, CA, in 1946, he was featured on the cover of Time magazine. His gorgeous designs, notably the floor-to-ceiling windows, cleaner-than-clean lines, and rectilinear forms, made him the poster boy of California Modernism—Time described them as “spaciousness and compactness combined.” Who could argue?
Today, Neutra’s post-and-beam beauties dot the hills in and around Hollywood. One of them is the Singleton House, a 6,400-square-foot estate on a promontory of 5 acres at the tip of Bel Air. Integrated within its natural surroundings, the “glass box” architecture looks uncannily like a roof floating on the grass. The home was sold in 2012.
Currently on the market: Pitcairn House, Scheimer House (by father-son team Richard and Dion Neutra)
Philip Johnson (1906–2005)
Glass House, New Canaan, CT
Median price: $2.15 million
Highest price: Beck House, Dallas (for sale at $27.5 million)
When it was built in 1949, Philip Johnson’s Glass House drew significant attention for its extreme lightness and transparency. Johnson, one of the 20th century’s greatest modernist architects, today is also recognized for the JFK Memorial and the Crystal Cathedral.
From his thesis project that sold for $1.25 million to the double-height glass pavilion that asks $14 million, the handful of Johnson’s designs listed or sold in the past five years have a median price of $2.15 million. A bargain … right?
Currently on the market: Wiley House, Beck House
John Lautner (1911–1994)
Bob and Dolores Hope Estate, Palm Springs, CA
Bob & Dolores Hope Estate
Median price: $3.47 million
Highest price: Bob Hope Residence (for sale at $25 million)
And the modernist master with the mostest (in valuations): John Lautner, less of a household name than many of the others on our list. A onetime student of Frank Lloyd Wright, Lautner designed a variety of one-of-a-kind properties in Los Angeles, including a few stunners located on the famous 90210 ZIP code—and their prime locations probably contribute enormously to the whopping median price of $3.47 million of the Lautner homes we tracked.
Several of the Southern California architect’s designs achieved Hollywood fame as well, appearing in famous movies such as “Pulp Fiction,” and continuing to crop up in TV shows, music videos, and even video games.
But his most famous and striking design may also be his most notorious: the so-called flying saucer home (aka “The UFO Home” or “The Volcano Home”) built for Bob Hope in Palm Springs, CA, in 1973. The 23,000-square-foot home was listed on the market in 2013 for $50 million and has been plunging in price ever since. Got $25 million? It’s yours.
Currently on the market: Shearing House, Stevens Residence, 1263 Lassen View Drive, Arthur Elrod House