We paused in Kaufmann's study, which rests in the vertical core of the house. A big wooden desk designed by Wright stands beside a glass column that opens over another stunning view.
Looking out, our guide admitted, "you can't get any work done in this room at all."
Almost 4 million people have visited Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's restored masterwork in Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands.
The art is also distracting, between the original Picassos, authentic Japanese woodblock prints (gifts from Wright) and a Diego Rivera drawing that hangs in the guest room where Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo, stayed. Einstein visited, too, one of a list of celebrities that came as friends of the Kaufmanns and fans of the house.
After the tour, I wandered down a path to the overlook where the Kaufmanns first wanted their house, before Wright convinced them otherwise. "I want you to live with the waterfall," he told them, "not just look at it, but for it to become an integral part of your lives."
For other clients, the great man was willing to accommodate a more domestic existence. You see that at Kentuck Knob, which Wright designed two decades later for the Kaufmanns' friends I.N. and Bernardine Hagan. Hagan ran an ice-cream company in Uniontown, Pa. His wife wanted a home with a garden where she could hold small parties. They admired Wright's vision but feared his extravagance. On the Kaufmanns' advice, they told the architect their budget was half of what they were actually willing to pay. That tactic worked pretty well.
Visiting Kentuck Knob gives you an added feel for Wright's genius. Here, as at Fallingwater, he blurred the line between indoors and out (the living room and outdoor terrace blend seamlessly). Again you hear about his ideas of "compression and release" as you squeeze through narrow hallways and into another bedroom with an expansive view.
Kentuck Knob's current owner, the British Lord Peter Palumbo, opened the house to the public in 1996 and has assembled an eclectic sculpture collection down the hill, where it doesn't compete with the house. On the wet morning after my tour, I snooped around the statuary and then stopped in for a snack at the little cafe, in a converted greenhouse.
Behind the home is the sanctuary of a Japanese garden, whispering with the silvery tones of a metal sculpture that sways like reeds in the breeze. A bench overlooks nearby hills and meadows with hay bales and red farm buildings. It's a good spot to consider not just what the great architect brought to a beautiful place, but the inspiration he took from that landscape and the muses he found in the people who would live there.
GETTING THERE: Fallingwater is about four hours from Washington. Take Interstate 70 west to I-68 west, to Exit 14. Turn left on Route 40 west and continue to Farmington, Pa. Take Route 381 north for 10 miles.
THE HOUSES: Fallingwater (724-329-8501, www.fallingwater.org) offers one-hour tours Tuesday-Sunday every half-hour. Cost: $15 per adult, $10 for youths 6 to 18 (less on weekdays). Reservations advised. There's a child-care center for kids under 6, who aren't permitted on tour ($2 per hour per child). On Saturdays there is a four-hour hike of the grounds, plus the house tour. This summer, Fallingwater will offer special sunset tours for groups, with hors d'oeuvres and wine on the roof ($75/person). Kentuck Knob (724-329-1640, www.kentuckknob.com) has tours daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; admission is $12 weekdays, $15 on weekends.
WHERE TO STAY: The Inne at Watson's Choice (888-820-5380, www.watsonschoice.com) is a bed-and-breakfast at the edge of nearby Uniontown, Pa.; rooms are $98 and $115, and packages include admission to both Wright homes. For extravagance, the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort (800-422-2736, www.nemacolin.com) offers a PGA-level golf course, spa and four-star dining; rooms range from $150 to $3,000. Or there's a Holiday Inn in Uniontown, along with other chain lodging.
WHERE TO EAT: Ohiopyle, Pa., has a cafe for lunch near the Wright homes. Dinner options center on Uniontown and include Caileigh's (105 E. Fayette St., 724-437-9463, www.caileighs.com), which features capably made French dishes including truffled seabass and veal roulade. Chez Gerard (Business Route 40, Hopwood, 724-437-9001, www.chezgerard.net) serves French dishes, too: deer medallions and lobster Napoleon. Meloni's (105 W. Main St., 724-437-2061) has standard-issue Italian food, burgers and sandwiches.
INFO: Pennsylvania Tourism Office, 800-VISIT-PA, www.visitpa.com; Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, 800-333-5661, www.laurelhighlands.org.