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Iconic American houses – unique and innovative property from across the US

Discover the most influential homes in the United States

Iconic American houses Elrod
Photography/Richard Powers
(Image credit: Thames & Hudson)

Some of history’s greatest architects have honed their skills in America, and a new book showcases the innovative work created over the years.

‘The Iconic American House; Architectural Masterworks since 1990’ by Dominic Bradbury and Richard Powers offers up over 400 photographs of the groundbreaking residential architecture in the country over the last 120 years. This compendium includes a wide-range of styles, but each telling their own story.

From early 20th Century European-inspired buildings, the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and the contemporary dynamic designs of Steven Holl, we follow the journey that American took in designing her own styles and expressions.

Let’s explore a few of these iconic American houses…

1. The Mount

Iconic American houses Mount

Photography/Richard Powers

(Image credit: Thames & Hudson)

Where: Lenox, Massachusetts

Designed by: Edith Wharton and Ogen Codman, Jr (1902)

Inspired by French and Italian neoclassicism, the author and architect came together to work on this ambitious home. 

Innovatively accessed from the rear, the entrance of this building interestingly takes you into its lower level before rising you up once more into the dramatic vaulted gallery overlooking the terrazzo and marble courtyard. 

The Mount is currently open to the public to explore.

2. Saarinen House

Iconic American houses Saarinen

Photography/Richard Powers

(Image credit: Thames & Hudson)

Where: Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Designed by: Eliel Saarinen (1930)

This family home, lived in by the architect and his family, is often described as Saarinen’s crowning achievement. The building combines an Arts and Crafts exterior with a sleek Art Deco look indoors.

The success of the house is not due only to the architect, but his family, Wife Loja designed many of the fabrics used, and planned the landscaping. Daughter Pipsan, an interior designer, contributed to paintings in the home, while son Eero designed some of the furniture.

3. Fallingwater

Iconic American houses Fallingwater

Photography/Richard Powers

(Image credit: Thames & Hudson)

Where: Mill Run, Pennsylvania

Designed by: Frank Lloyd Wright (1939)

Perhaps one of the most instantly recognisable buildings in the book, this truly iconic American house is the fullest expression of Wright’s architectural sympathies of melding a building with site and surroundings. 

‘There was a rock ledge bank beside the waterfall, and the natural thing seemed to be to cantilever the house from the bank over the fall,’ said Wright. ‘I think you can hear the waterfall when you look at the design.’

4. Frey House II

Iconic American houses Frey

Photography/Richard Powers

(Image credit: Thames & Hudson)

Where: Palm Springs, California

Designed by: Albert Frey (1964)

This extraordinary home was built at an elevation of around 67m above Palm Springs; a site previously believed impossible to build on. 

The house finds a synergy with the land, tucked into the rocks but providing commanding views. This is enabled by the glass walls which slide open along the building, carefully considered by Frey.

‘I studied the position of the sun for a whole year,’ said Frey. ‘The plan was designed so that, for instance, the glass walls are not exposed to the sun in the heat of the summer. In winter, when the sun is much lower, it comes in and helps heat the house.’

Frey House II is now looked after by the Palm Springs Art Museum.

5. Elrod House

Iconic American houses Elrod

Photography/Richard Powers

(Image credit: Thames & Hudson)

Where: Palm Springs, California

Designed by: John Lautner (1968)

Lautner’s ambitions in concrete were fully realised in Palm Springs - a city of modernist architectural experimentation. 

The key to this house was the iconic circular living room, topped with a floating, propeller-like concrete roof. 

Elrod House can be considered the next stage in organic architecture championed by Lautner’s former mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Iconic American House is available now ($65, Thames & Hudson)