The Kaufmann Office is being restored for display in new V&A East collection centre
Frank Lloyd Wright interior is assembled from 240 swamp plywood and wood-covered plywood. It served for almost 20 years as the corner office of Wright’s loyal patron, Edgar J. Kaufmann. It was Kaufmann who also commissioned Fallingwater, the Pennsylvania country house suspended over a waterfall that is now regarded as the architect’s masterpiece. This interior is expected to be on display at London’s future V&A East in 2023.
The Kaufmann Office came to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in 1974 as a gift from the retail magnate’s son, Edgar Kaufmann Jr, who had been so inspired by reading Wright’s autobiography in 1934 that he joined the community of apprentices in residence at Taliesin, the architect’s Wisconsin home and studio. Although his fellowship was short-lived, Kaufmann Jr sealed the association between his father and Wright, and later converted Fallingwater into a museum.
Every element of the 9m x 8m plywood interior has been preserved. The interior consists of panels, ceilings and floors, a striking geometric reliefs running along the length of a wall, a cantilevered table and a set of cubic armchairs and stools upholstered by weaver Loja Saarinen.
The interior is expected to be completed by the end of May, supported by a € 25,000 grant from the Tefaf Museum Rehabilitation Fund.
This is a “structural consolidation”, says Plowden & Smith’s senior furniture conservator Oliver White, focused on removing the dust from years in storage (the office was last shown at the V&A in 2005, then briefly lent to Tate Britain in 2013) and fixing any chipped edges of the veneers with natural fish glue. The aim is not to erase “signs of wear” that attest to the room’s years of use, such as finger marks around the cupboard doors, but to make sure it is in optimal condition for permanent public display.
This room marked a critical moment in Wright’s career. “Kaufmann commissioned many buildings from Wright but only these two got built and remain today,” Wilk says