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Farnsworth House: The Illinois House that Steals the Spotlight

Sep 27, 2018 Arts, Culture & History

The exterior of a house

Lights. Camera. Architecture.

Plans are in place to make a movie that tells the backstory of Plano’s Farnsworth House, a famous glass and steel house on stilts built by famed architect Mies van der Rohe. Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges will play van der Rohe, who in 1945 was hired by nephrologist (kidney doctor) Dr. Edith Farnsworth, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. The script will focus on their relationship, which began to crumble after cost overruns that led to lawsuits, public criticisms and accusations of malpractice.

A house surrounded by trees
Photo cred: Illinois Office of Tourism

Farnsworth House Director Scott Mehaffey says he’s spoken to the filmmaker, but they don’t yet know if the movie will be filmed there. However, two biographies about Farnsworth are due out in 2019, one by Alex Beam and another by Nora Wendl. Both offer unique takes on Farnsworth’s life, according to Scott.

Before these stories hit bookstores and the big screen, visitors can tour Farnsworth House both during the day and at night. Advance reservations are required.

Farnsworth House Tours

Even though van der Rohe described Farnsworth House’s design as “almost nothing,” its open space, glass-walled minimalist design is considered one of his finest works. Tours begin with a short video in the visitors’ center, then a walk on a wooded path to the home along the Fox River. (Tip: It’s buggy, so bring bug spray or buy insect repellant wipes at the visitors’ center). You’ll be able to walk through the furnished house, including the famous glass prism bedroom, and learn about the design and its practicality.

People crowed around a house

Farnsworth House’s strong connection to nature and the river make it a popular place for Tai Chi and yoga classes, offered several times a month. New Moonlight Tours let visitors experience the house as the sun sets. As the sky darkens, the lights, including lanterns and candles, make the glassy house glow from the inside out. These Saturday night Moonlight Tours, held from April through October, sell out quickly, so buy tickets in advance.

Farnsworth House is not visible from the road, and to legally access it, you must go on a tour. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 866/811-4111.

Be aware of the home’s strict rules. Cameras aren’t allowed in the house unless you purchase a $10 interior photography permit and sign a copy of their photography policy. Special guided photography tours are offered daily. You also will be required to remove your shoes and wear socks inside. Backpacks, camera bags, large bags and strollers aren’t allowed, and it’s an adult-oriented tour.

The exterior of a house

Why Mies van der Rohe's work is significant

Mies van der Rohe is considered one of the greatest architects of the 20th century, and one of the most influential figures in American Modernism. He’s credited with creating an “International Style” that influenced the design of skyscrapers worldwide. The German immigrant’s less-is-more, open-space style (he used to always say, “God is in the details”) influenced an entire generation of architects. He had a profound influence on Chicago. Tours dedicated solely to his work are offered at the Chicago Architecture Foundation and the Illinois Institute of Technology Mies van der Rohe Society, where van der Rohe worked and designed the campus.

3 Chicago places to see van der Rohe’s work

If you can’t make the 60-mile drive from Chicago to Plano to see the Farnsworth House (factoring in traffic, it’s about a 2-hour drive), there are plenty of other places in the Chicago area to see Mies van der Rohe’s work, including:

  • The Illinois Institute of Technology campus, in Chicago’s South Side Bronzeville neighborhood. It’s home to 20 van der Rohe buildings, including his masterpiece, S. R. Crown Hall, 3360 S. State St.
  • The residential building at 860-880 N. Lake Shore Drive, a 26-story tower overlooking Lake Michigan.
  • Two federal buildings: the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, 219 S. Dearborn, a 30-story glass and steel high rise built in 1964, and the adjacent Kluczynski Federal Building, 230 S. Dearborn St., in 1975. Van der Rohe died before the building was completed in 1969.

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