Wright wanted families to congregate in the living rooms of his Usonian homes.
Welcome to Usonia, an alternate America envisioned by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. (“U.S.-onia,” get it?) Here, the middle class can afford high-quality dwellings that harmonize with nature. No one hoards, because garages, attics and basements don’t exist. Everyone has the same furniture.
Wright’s concept is so at odds with today’s culture of customization and consumption that the spare, streamlined Pope-Leighey House, one of the few Usonian homes open to the public, feels like an alien spacecraft.
Backstory: Loren Pope, a copy editor at the Washington Star, idolized Wright. In 1939, he wrote Wright a letter asking him to design a home for the Pope family. Completed for $7,000 in 1941, the 1,200-square-foot Falls Church house switched hands in 1946, to Robert and Marjorie Leighey. When Virginia condemned it to make way for I-66, the National Trust for Historic Preservation moved the structure to the grounds of Woodlawn, an 18th-century plantation.
Inside: Wright programmed the house to manipulate its occupants. (He would have liked “The Sims.”) The train car-narrow hallways and kitchen drive families into the spacious, high-ceilinged living area; the technique is known as “compression and release.” Other tricks herd people into the main room — the shelf above the master bed, for example, is too low to allow one to sit up and read beneath it.
Outside: Admire the carport, which Wright popularized. Say, “I love how the grooves on every screw head are turned parallel to the grain of the wood,” to stun the tour group with your powers of observation. Follow up with, “I’m a native of Usonia, you see.”
Gift Shop: Wright and Woodlawn collide in the $14 Pope-Leighey House cross-stitch kit.
Pope-Leighey House, 9000 Richmond Highway, Alexandria; 703-780-4000.