Frank Lloyd Wright's Zimmerman House

House of no improvement

Visitors are put off by the totality of the house. It’s complete. It’s done. You’ve arrived. And if you can’t be happy here and now, you will not be saved by the prospect of home improvement. But home improvement is our domestic Mani-----fest Destiny. There is always a project awaiting—a new bathroom, a kitchen makeover, a new deck, new carpeting, a new addition. Knock out the back wall, push up through the roof. Flip the house and start all over.

But what happens when your house is finished? Now you have to be happy. You have no excuses. A new floor or a new room isn’t going to save you. (This may be what an unfinished house preserves for people—the possibility of arriv-al, the last push through the mountain pass to paradise. If you stop before you’re done, you can’t be disappointed.)

No home improvement, no promise of expansion—it’s un-American. Your house is defined. That means that your life is finite after all. Home improvement is the domestic outpost of our restlessness.

The Zimmermans never would have had a discussion about pushing out a wall to expand the bedroom or getting rid of the Wright furniture for something more modern. They forsook part of our domestic Manifest Destiny—to sprawl across the land, across our lot, and in our house. The Zimmerman House is an arrow into the heart of the do-it-yourself republic. The house is complete. It’s done. Go live your life.

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by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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