The Restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s The Kaufmann Office for Victoria and Albert Museum
The V&A, established in 1852, is the world’s leading museum of art, design and performance with collections unrivalled in their scope and diversity, spanning 5,000 years of human ingenuity. The collections include over 2.7 million works of artistic excellence, design and innovation. The Kaufmann Office (1935 – 1937), by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959), is one of the most important 20th-century objects in the V&A’s collection and is the only complete Wright interior outside of the United States. It is regularly enquired about by visitors and, given its importance, it is essential that the work is restored and preserved for future generations to enjoy.
The office is unique in that it retains all of its original woodwork, furniture, carpets and upholstery textiles. It was designed by Wright for his most distinguished patron, department store owner Edgar J. Kaufmann (1885–1955), for whom Wright simultaneously designed his most famous house, Fallingwater, in southwestern Pennsylvania. The office was constructed largely of modest materials – swamp cypress plywood and cypress-veneered blockboard – and its most unusual feature is the elaborate plywood relief mural, which covers the entire wall above Kaufmann’s desk. It is a fine example of Wright’s decorative tendencies. The Kaufmann Office enhances the V&A collections as well as our understanding of furniture and fabrics designed by Wright. The office was given to the V&A by Kaufmann’s son, curator Edgar Kaufmann, Jr (1910-1989), who was responsible for bringing his father and Wright together.
The grant from TEFAF will support the cleaning and restoration of the entire office, ensuring the stability of its structure. Through the restoration process, the V&A will gain insight into how the office was constructed and this information will be of interest to expert conservators around the world. Once the restoration is complete, the office will be installed at the V&A’s new Collection and Research Centre, one of two new public venues currently under construction in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as part of the V&A East project. Opening in 2023, the Centre, designed by award-winning architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, will comprehensively reinvent the museum store as a visitor experience, transforming how the V&A’s extensive collection can be accessed and explored.