Graycliff Estate

Graycliff-sig.jpg
Derby, NY
United States
Graycliff Estate

Perched on a cliff 70 feet above Lake Erie, this 8.5-acre estate was designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright between 1926 and 1931 for Darwin and Isabelle R. Martin. The site plan was conceived as a unified whole in which the landscape and buildings are interconnected, the landscape operating as both an extension of the architecture’s motifs and an enhancement to the natural setting, particularly the lake.

The grounds of the narrow, rectangular parcel, densely bordered by mature shade trees, begin with the entrance drive, which passes through a large field followed by a working garden. The drive enters the domestic space, in which an ensemble of three buildings is positioned close to the lake. The stucco and local limestone main house and garage are accessed by a circular drive, the house’s port cochere extended over a stone basin which feeds an irregularly-shaped pool surrounded by loose stones. Behind the house, a sunken lawn projects towards the lake, edged with masonry walls that echo the horizontal, Prairie-style lines of the buildings in form and material. The design also includes a tennis court, sunken planting beds, a hidden garden, and informal tree and shrub plantings.

In 1929, Ellen Shipman contributed a planting plan, which included colorful flowers and the working garden. In 1951, the estate was sold and converted into a boarding school. In 1997 it was purchased by the Graycliff Conservancy, which extensively renovated the property. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.