Whatever you imagined, it's even better.
Driving on a certain section of U.S. 67, heading upriver from Davenport, I must remind myself to keep my eyes on the road. A beautiful distraction, just past LeClaire proper, threatens a center-line violation every time.
Built upon the edge of a steep limestone bluff, high above the blue-green waters of an abandoned quarry, the house nearly screams out the name, Frank Lloyd Wright.
The famous architect's work was inspiration for the "Quarry House," but its builder was, in fact, a young Davenport man.
While a student at the University of Iowa in the early 1950s, Herbert Tyler put his house design on paper for an architecture class. He then moved the design from paper to property north of LeClaire.
The result is a beautiful, one-of-kind home and grounds that I have for years dreamed of seeing. Thanks to a change in tenants at the Quarry House, its owners permitted us inside.
A fan of FLW
Herb Tyler was a Wright follower, smitten with the then-new concept of organic architecture.
Wright, widely regarded the finest American architect of all time, had a genius for designing structures that existed in harmony with nature. He combined wood, stone, glass and light to create homes and professional buildings that are instantly recognizable for their distinct "Prairie School" style that draws environment into design.
Tyler nailed it.
In the early 1950s, he bought a 64-acre plot along Great River Road (U.S. 67).
"He'd just come back from Korea," said Davenport attorney Ralph H. Heninger, who counted himself among Tyler's closest friends. "Herb and I knew each other since we were 15. We both had gone to school at Iowa, and we both had an interest in architecture.
"He designed the house and was the primary builder."
Our photos of the Quarry House capture the home's unique beauty and spectacular views. But pictures cannot capture the feeling of the house — its soul, dare I say.
I have toured many Wright homes, including the Dana Thomas House in Springfield, which I must have visited a dozen times as a graduate student in the state's capital. I've also lived in houses all my life, which represents the entirety of my expertise in architecture.
But any dummy can appreciate something so rare.
Walking in the main door is as dramatic as walking out of it. On the outside, a pathway of giant limestone steps is framed in trees and appears to continue upward into infinity. On the inside, recessed lights, framed in copper, punctuate the redwood ceiling and draw you into the main space.
The open concept living room, office and kitchen steal the show.
Even without the eye-popping view of the quarry and river — some 70 feet below the home's perch — the collection of rooms simultaneously emit warmth and a mix of envy and admiration for the obvious eye for style. How can the space between wood, glass and rock give the sense of floating in thin air?
Wooden, accordion-style doors to the bedroom, den and bathrooms were open, so the entire house flows into itself.
Even though the appliances in the ultra-modern kitchen are more than 60 years old, they fit so seamlessly into the structure, it is easy to imagine they were recently installed. Surely one of the first microwaves, the "electronic cooking center," is built into a small room off the kitchen as neatly as a 2017 model convection oven.
Ample skylights are equipped with rooftop, electric light sources to keep the home bright, even at night. Lighting is everything, and it's everywhere. Even the ribbon of red — a Wright signature — and gray tile that runs below the massive windows on the outside are equipped with top lighting. And many lights in the home can be operated from switches inside the built-in headboard in the master bedroom.
It's really a one-bedroom home, although the den could accommodate a small bed. The side-by-side master and second bathroom share a glass-brick wall, which is inside the matching, sunken tile shower/bath combos.
The built-in drafting table in one corner of the main living space feels borrowed from the drafting table of Frank Lloyd Wright himself.
No interest in selling it
Herb Tyler died in 2013, leaving the Quarry House to his daughter and son-in-law, Amy and John Telleen. The couple built a home on the same property, and they selectively rent the Quarry House.
One such renter was Tyler's lifelong friend, Heninger, who lived there for 24 years, beginning in 1987.
"When I moved out to the Quarry House, it had been unoccupied for several years," he said. "Herb said, 'If you want to live in the house, that's fine, but it's going to need a lot of work.'
"I have to give most of the credit to Mary Lou (Heninger's wife who died late last year), because it was hard to get contractors to a home that was so remote. But she did it. We were fortunate to get second-generation contractors — the children of the ones who helped build it."
The Heningers may have stayed longer, except that Ralph H. had a heart attack, and the ambulance couldn't find the house. In 2011, it was time to move to town.
"It was a wonderful place to live, and I enjoyed every day I was there," he said. "The house was an enjoyable place to be, and it was a challenge. Fortunately, I had a wife who pitched right in."
And Tyler was a frequent visitor, he said, sharing holidays and birthdays with the Heningers.
"There wasn't much furniture, because everything was built in," he said. "Once you arrive at the Quarry House, you're in a different world."
Tyler lived in his Quarry House for only a few years, Heninger said, and the Telleens never have lived in it. Since Amy Telleen was very young when her mom married Tyler, she grew up with the house. Although she recognizes it is something special, her husband said, she preferred something larger and more practical.
"The interior is exactly like it was when it was built," John Telleen said during our tour. "It's very common to have people stop on the road to take pictures. When the yellow forsythia (which Tyler planted in the limestone wall) is in bloom, it cascades down the rock like a waterfall.
"There's hardly a stitch of wood in the place. It's mostly stone. Herb was fond of it, and we just kept it in the family. We don't have any interest in selling it.
"It's unique and beautiful, but it has its quirks."
Someone, presumably Tyler, inscribed the year 1955 in stone on one of the fireplace chimneys on the roof of the Quarry House, so that's the year the Telleens say it was finished.
Four years after it was built, Frank Lloyd Wright died at the age of 91. He built 532 structures, including many now-famous private homes, such as Fallingwater (Kaufmann residence) in Mill Run, Pennsylvania.
Just like Wright homes, the craftsmanship at the Quarry House helps carry the design. Here are some examples:
• A built-in hi-fi unit in the living room contains a pull-up turntable and a panel of vacuum tubes.
• Two stone fireplaces have stone mantles that must weigh hundreds of pounds each.
• A grandfather clock from the home Tyler grew up in is built into a hallway wall.
• The master bedroom has a walk-out stone patio with a carved-stone bench.
• Several transom windows help the rooms share light.
• Exposed beams were ahead of their time.
• On the edges of the floors, narrow metal strips with holes in them the size of quarters serve as heat vents.
• The master toilet has a bidet.
• The inset ceiling lights have museum-style covers with fishbowl lenses.
• In the driveway near the house, a wine cellar is built into the limestone wall.
And then there are those quirks Telleen referred to.
"There's not a stitch of insulation in the whole place," he said, saying the home is as difficult to heat and cool as one might imagine. "Even so, it does have a very warm feeling, doesn't it?"
Very much so, yes. In fact, as we headed down the steep driveway, I remembered what Telleen said about the new renter, and my envy turned to relief that the place will be appreciated.
"I'm delighted with our tenant, because he gets it," Telleen had told us. "He travels to see Frank Lloyd Wright homes."
And now he gets to live in a Herbert Tyler.